Friday, October 28, 2022

Yolanda Mero on practicing the piano

More from the book Piano Mastery by Harriette Brower, here is Yolanda Mero (1887-1963)— like everybody in this book, the type of language she uses is dated, and a little long winded, but everyone will recognize what she's talking about: 

“I do not love technic for its own sake, and therefore I now practice it but little. Of course, I must play scales sometimes not every day, however. You see I have no daily routine, as some pianists have; that is because I am not methodical, in the first place, and, secondly, because that kind of practice seems to me such a waste of time. 

When I am here in my home, between engagements, I practice; but even then I am not systematic about it. When the fever is on then I work with enthusiasm a whole day at a time; but I must be in the mood to work or I accomplish nothing. If I am not in the mood, I would rather keep away from the piano or play only a bit to amuse myself.

My preference is for music filled with ideas, with emotion, not for pieces whose technical display will astonish and dazzle. A work like the Paganini Variations of Brahms, for instance, is full of brilliant technical feats which seem to obscure the deeper meanings of the piece. I play these Variations, to be sure, but they do not greatly appeal to me. 

When there is such a wealth of instrumental music of all kinds, I feel it such a loss of time to spend so much of it on technic, pure and simple. Others may not agree with me however. There is Mme. Sophie Menter, for instance, who has a marvelous technic. She spends hours daily in five-finger technic work. This consists largely of repeating the same note with each finger in succession over and over again, now loud, now soft, with every conceivable variety of touch and tone. The principle she works on is equality. The theory is that as each finger plays the note, the ear must discriminate between the tones and strive to make each tone like all the others. If five fingers can be thus trained to play single notes with absolute evenness they will, it is claimed, preserve this equality in scales, arpeggios or whatever is played. For myself I could never follow such a regime, but she has achieved wonderful results from it.

When I take up a new work I play it through quite as a child would, carefully and slowly, from end to end. I do this over and over till the plan of the piece is in my mind and in my ear, till I can hear it. Then the real study of it begins; then I really work at it.

I do not say to myself: Now I shall add this piece to my repertoire, therefore I will begin at once to memorize it, first one hand and the other, then both together. No, I study the contents of the piece as a whole, then each in detail. The result is that, almost before I know it has happened, I know the notes from memory. This seems to me a better way than to start at once to memorize the notes. For, in the effort to do this, and to play without them, in the early stages, one may miss many signs and marks which would otherwise be observed, if the printed page were before one. 

There is so much technic to be found in pieces, and it is the sort of technic that is interesting, too. To take scales and play them to-ay at a certain speed and tomorrow a little better, or worse, that is not sufficiently absorbing to keep my mind on them; I fall to thinking of other things. But to study a difficult passage in a musical work, to see and hear it grow better and better with practice there is keen zest in that.

In regard to keeping up my technic to concert pitch, I can say that I do not now practice scales and technical forms outside of pieces. Of course in earlier days I had to do a great deal of pure technic study. But now I find all I need in the pieces themselves. 

A person with a beautiful voice, who spends two years or so with a good teacher, can sing in concerts and even go on tour. With perhaps thirty songs and a couple of arias, one is considered ready to come before the public. But to learn thirty songs would hardly match the labor bestowed on one Chopin etude. Then think of the repertoire a public pianist must have !

Very few of the extremely modern things make me feel I cannot rest without learning them, or that I must play them.”

1 comment:

Michael Griener said...

Buddy Rich:
When on the job, you don’t first play with the left hand, then with the right hand, then with the bass drum, and so forth. Since you don’t play this way, why practice this way? It is nonsensical to do so.

When you do practice, use your drum-set, so your coordination between the hands and feet, and your touch (the response of your drums and cymbals to your strokes) will remain sharp, and further improve. And play as you normally do, with feeling and musical intelligence, not in a cold (strictly methodical) manner.