One of my first blog posts (click here to read it) was about a very common concern among pianists: memory. Today I want to analyze another major fear which i call “the wrong notes paranoia”.
Usually we start our musical training when we are children. I was six years-old and I clearly remember my first piano lessons. One of the biggest tasks a child has when he begins playing an istrument is to learn how to read a score and to apply this new skill practically. A little kid is usually not focused on the musical aspect during a performance, as that is usually something that flows naturally (especially if he is naturally gifted for music) and is “inside him”. His biggest concern is playing all the notes right. In Italy, at Potenza Conservatoire, I saw kids playing beautifully live, with a very deep sense of line and a great deal of charme, being upset and discouraged because of some dirty notes in their playing. As a teacher, I strongly believe we should encourage discipline and accuracy but we must, first of all, let our pupils understand that the final goal of music is transmitting emotions and beauty.
Ufortunately, since some decades we live in the era of perfection. There is a lot of competition, a huge amount of show-business and an enormous usage of new technologies. The advent of editing in the recording business made everything even tougher. People bought vinyles and CDs and expected to hear the same kind of perfection in live performances. Musicians started to move their priority from “creativity, pathos and poetry” towards “perfection and impeccable control”. This is quite obvious when we compare recordings from the past with nowadays’ products.
Piano competitions played their part in this game: more and more, jurors started to stand for the “more anonymous but perfect pianist” instead of the “pianist who takes risks and plays beautifully, with a personal identity, and sometimes screws up”. Of course, usually the second kind of pianist was audience’s favourite and some kind of scandal always emerged.
Last but not least, there is a more philosophical aspect that affected twentieth-century artists and intellectuals: the end of World War II. War affected people and led them to a more detached relationship with life: time of being carried away by emotions was just a memory; they needed to rebuild, to erase the horror of death, to be lucid and pragmatic. Pianists became more perfectionists and researchers, piano playing almost became a science.
All those aspect resulted in a very strong message: we are not allowed to make mistakes. We MUST be perfect.
This is extremely frustrating and let pianists getting far from what the main sense of music should be: joy and pleasure.
I strongly believe that the medicine for the wrong notes paranoia is love for music and respect for the composers. If we respect the composer, we will surely and naturally do our best to play “all the notes right” while at the same time our priority will be (as it should be) giving an emotional, blissful and convincing reading of the music we offer to our audience, which will understand and will be touched by our love for music.