Mornings in The Bardic Academy begin with practice – this ancient love affair that never flags.
For the last five or six weeks, Bach has been at the heart of the practice. I find myself visiting the piano three, four, five times a day to play through a sequence of fourteen of his short, elementary pieces. I almost can’t help myself, and I often find myself at the piano for one more round right before bed. And then up in the morning and back at it!
I am a Bach beginner, all things considered. And I’m beguiled. I’m charmed. I’m warmed to the core by the kindness in these pieces, their architecture of harmony and peace. This music is presided over by a wise and loving intelligence. No wonder people perceive divinity in it.
This morning I began learning a new (to me) piece that required me to stop playing and count out the beats in two tricky measures. “This is just like textual analysis,” I thought. Music asks us to feel for sure but it also requires that we THINK. As musicians, we must think about many things – time, dynamics, air flow in some cases, and – my hobby horse – fingering. If you don’t strategize your fingering, you can make a right mess! Bach’s pieces are built on thought and require thought, even as they soar in feeling and evoke wonder, JOY, and gratitude.
When they make movies about musicians, they don’t show them just sitting at their instrument, a pencil in hand, counting beats or putting a small “2” under a note to indicate that it’s to be played with the second finger. And except in transformation montages that culminate in wild success, they rarely show them practicing – at least not in the way that I recognize.
For most musicians, practicing is less photogenic and more intimate. It takes a lot more time than it does in the montages! There is laughter sometimes, and surprise. There are temporary dead-ends, and later, roads that open up. There are moments of complete silence, or pencils scratching, or quiet counting. There are stumbles and passages played wrong eight times in a row. There are brilliant passages of golden music followed by tears and smiles. And then more counting.
My practice this morning is like opening a 300 year old love letter with a math puzzle inside. I’m hooked, mind and heart. How could I stop until I solve it?