Just Some Notes: Observing Some Pianists

September 11, 2011 § 1 Comment

For my piano lessons in college, one of the only assignments I had to do each semester was write up 3 concert reports. Any concerts that had a pianist in their ensemble was acceptable, and it wasn’t limited to just Classical concerts. In fact, it was a simple 2 page observation on the music, the atmosphere and of course the way a pianist plays. When I first started writing these concert reports, I hated it because I felt that taking notes during a concert was NOT the way to enjoy live music. Usually I loved just sitting back with my eyes closed, surround myself with the music and let the notes do their thing.

Of course, it wasn’t before long that I started to enjoy observing the different play styles and techniques of different pianists (cause I’m nerdy like that). For classical pianists, I developed a spectrum. On one end, you have Lang Lang, who is known for grandiose gestures and flourishes. On the other end, you have Horowitz, who is stoic and a minimalist in terms of movements. Most pianists fall somewhere in between on that spectrum.

Movie Poster for "The Pianist", the ultimate piano movie for Chopin lovers

The point of this written assignment for this class was for the student to be exposed to a wide range of pianists and examine the different techniques they applied. Some students that may have less movement (like myself) might find it beneficial to add more gestures to express the notes more, like raising your hand higher and let gravity help create a fortissimo sound (it helps a lot). 21 concert reports later, you kind of realize all the great pianists have more or less tailored a unique style of playing. There’s no “correct” or “incorrect” way of playing, there are just different ways that suit different people.

The Taipei Jazz Summer Festival was an awesome event and I was so fortunate to snag a few of the cheap tickets early. The Jazz in the Garden series in Washington DC was one of my favorite summer events, because it was essentially a big party with lots of wine, sangria and cheese+crackers. Unfortunately, the focus was more on the drinking and less so on the Jazz. In fact, all I can remember was the awesome sangria you can get at the Sculpture Garden. The Taipei Jazz Festival is completely different, less drinking and more listening since it was held at the National Concert Hall. Actually, I found the venue too rigid cause in my mind, jazz music should be listened to at an intimate setting, not in a grand concert hall.

the brochure

I feel like the ‘live’ aspect of Jazz is so much more important than it is for Classical music. Jazz is all about improvising and playing what you feel like at that moment in time. It’s not succumbed by the rigid forms that Classical music is built on.

I have so much respect for Jazz pianists, probably because I was Classically trained. The thought of not having sheet music in front of me and improvising blows my mind. That’s why it feels like magic when Jazz pianists play, I feel like they are channeling something else into their playing and not just what they’ve been told to play.

Just some random thoughts.

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§ One Response to Just Some Notes: Observing Some Pianists

  • Sewon says:

    I’ve always felt the same way about jazz music. I was classically trained in clarinet. I was first chair all through grade school, but I almost lost my solo one year because we did Rhapsody in Blue. that rip in the beginning (where you have to break all rules and open up your jaw) was so hard for me to execute. My private instructor wanted to have no part in it.. But yeah, good blog post, Jess. 🙂

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