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What I love…

I love the playing of the great Italian pianist, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. One of my teachers at college, Eileen Croxford, told me how she had been practising in a room next to him at a festival in Italy. She listened to him playing the same large leap over and over. Eileen went in to meet him and asked what he was doing. He replied that he had to get the leap right 100 times in a row. If not, he went back to the beginning. She was making a very clear point!

Repetition is so much a part of what we do as musicians; the same for dancers & sports women & men too.

We need to hone actions and movements to get them into our bodies so they feel and become natural and instinctive. We need to examine, observe, workout and understand the movements that will ultimately create sound. However, we all know that this intense focus can drain our attention and then repetition can become unnoticed and unheard. Things start going wrong and soon you are at the head-banging school of practice and chaos appears.

If you are to repeat yourself, you have to do it knowing what it is you are aiming for and to give yourself boundaries. We also need to avoid injury. Part of this work of “getting it right’ is to notice how we are, (or are not) using our bodies. In the early stages we tend to chuck a lot of mental energy backed up by over-large, exaggerated physical energy at whatever feat we are trying to pull off.

Refining down is the constant process of what we do to our techniques. More of our time can be usefully spent literally scaling down effort & movement so we are doing what is needed and no more. Our body likes to remember the “right” feeling and it tends to feel as if we aren’t doing much. That’s good technique – it has been refined down to its essence, to then allow you to move in a way that creates a true sound, a true phrase with ease.

Progress is not often in straight lines and “progressive” in a conventional way. We pluck at little twigs and branches here and there, adding as we go to a full picture of a full tree. There are some days when you’ve worked like a Trojan and weirdly, things aren’t where you thought they were, or should be. This too is life and the body is not a machine. Athletes don’t train every day in the same ways. They know their energy levels vary.

Resting aspects of a piece, walking away when to stay would mangle something, is healthy. Your Inner Puritan may not be working in yourbest interest.

I had a pupil who stopped for a year and literally didn’t touch her cello. She came back so much better as a cellist and musician as her growth and musical understanding was developing anyway –not just at her cello.