On this Mother’s Day, I think of the many piano teachers who breathe life into fledgling musical journeys with a gentle prod of the hands and the warm embrace of the human voice. Phrase shaping and the singing tone, originate from the ebb and flow of the breath that fuels energy through relaxed arms and supple wrists. “Singing” with pupils through phrases as a partner to tactile sensitivity, gives birth to beautiful music-making. What better way to nourish a beginner, than to cradle him/her in song.
For piano learners at all stages of musical development, the vocal model is a central ingredient of expressive playing.
A snatch from Irina Gorin’s studio:
Irina Mints at work
My studio: This 10 year old, beginning student moved away, and left the piano for many months–recently returning. We are slowly reconnecting with the singing tone, and contoured phrasing.
A 15-year old pupil practices the Chopin Waltz No. 19 in A minor, Op. Posthumous, at an early juncture of learning.
When I studied piano in New York City with Lillian Lefkofsky Freundlich, she always sang over my playing as well as her own. Her habitual voice-overs that lingered for years and seeped into the depths of my musical consciousness, gave me a sense of phrase-loving that would spread far and wide in my own teaching. Yet I would endure criticism from a portion of my You Tube audience, who wanted my focus to be on the fingers and where they traveled over the keyboard. (NO distractions please)
If we eavesdrop on Master Classes of the greats: Boris Berman, Dimitri Bashkirov, Richard Goode, and Murray Perahia, as well as others, we observe their sometimes raspy and imperfect vocal expression that nonetheless communicates shape, nuance, dynamics where fingers alone can’t achieve the same.
Some of the most gratifying interactions I’ve had with students centered on a vocal exchange where lines and contours were discovered and simultaneously wedded to a physical understanding of musical expression. (Awareness of harmonic movement, modulations, resolutions, and the flow of breath were always part of the integrated whole)