Knowing what I know now….how to reapproach old pieces!

Knowing what I know now….how to reapproach fingerings!

I recall reading an interview with David Russell, where he talked about how he had prepared to record his Barrios CD. I’m paraphrasing here, but what he said was something along the lines of, 1) learn all of the music, 2) take some time with it, 3) forget all of it, 4) come back to it and make some changes, 5) and then record.

My impression of what he was explaining – was that through this process, he could make changes based on what he perceived any problems that he might’ve missed, had he just continued to play the with his initial markings.

This is important for a number of reasons. From being both a student and a teacher, one can easily see that we often make cuts, or little sacrifices in hopes of making it sound better and be technically easier. However, many, including myself, often cut too much – or exaggerate these cuts in such a way, that if we do not keep ourselves in check, it might actually take away from the music…..which is the complete opposite of what we want to do!

By reapproaching the music at a later time, we can unbiasly reevaluate our decisions, and honestly ask ourselves if our fingerings, phrasing, and artistic vision worked, or if we need to make changes.
Here’s how you can try it yourself.

I think that the easiest pieces of music to look back on and ask yourself if you should make changes, are by Bach. The multitude of musical concepts, melodic direction, harmonic direction, contrapuntal interaction, basso continuo, structural perceptions, and a wide array of other components of the music, allows one to constantly reconsider the importance of what they are doing at any given moment.

Recently, I’ve been working on BWV 998, with the sole idea of playing it in such a way, that someone listening would not be able to distinguish the musical aesthetic from that of another instrument. While that opens up a complete different can of worms, it has led me to make changes throughout all of the movements.

When I was originally performing these pieces, I was studying with one teacher, but I had the input of at least two other prominent teachers and performers; meaning that my score was cluttered with different fingerings and markings. To begin reevaluating it, I to simply went through all of the fingerings and markings and then asked myself, “does this achieve my goal?” If not, then I had come up with something that does. This approach, while tedious, is the best way of making sure my current artistic vision is being met.

But, the best thing about Bach, is that down the road, I am 150% sure I will sit down with these pieces again and disagree with my current intention, and completely reevaluate and change things then! Think of Glenn Gould’s radically different approaches to the Goldberg Variations. I am sure given another 25-30 years, we would have had another completely different recording by Gould!

 – Zak

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