I’ve chosen Burgmuller’s “Tender Flower” as the springboard to explore attentive listening and its relationship to phrasing.
At the outset, the right moment to begin a piece is a challenge. The player has to experience the whole dimension of silence before a first note is played. That silence is not dead, but alive with cues about the moment of a composition’s birth. (If I shared all my video retakes of piece openers, it would take far too much time to sit through them) yet it’s the very patient, focused care taken to nurse the first sound or tone that makes all the difference in the outflow of a composition. It may be the most important place in the music.
To continue a piece after its opening note or chord shimmers with tonal beauty or has a blossoming energy, is all about phrase-loving and listening to the ends of notes in preparation for others. It’s a given that to accomplish this, a pianist must be tension-free and open to temporal events as they unfold. A relaxed, physical and mental state of mind is needed. Breathing with the music and its undulations involves being in the moment without distraction.
But harmonic rhythm also influences the shape of notes and their resolution. If a player is prepared to repeat an opening phrase that ends on the Dominant, then the resolution to Tonic is curved down. Listening to the very end of the Dominant note or chord, and breathing through it, will help taper the line as imagined.
Imagination, relaxation, being in the here and now of creation are all ingredients of attentive listening that make piano playing a gratifying experience. A patient, non-judgmental approach along with self-prompts or mental images that promote a free-flowing sound space, allow for inspired music-making.
“Tender Flower” played through:
About attentive listening:
Just Being at the Piano by Mildred Portney-Chase