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Sunday, July 31, 2011

On the Hotseat: Guárdame las vacas

Author Dorothy Parker once said: “I hate writing; I love having written.” I feel the same about recording a video. Were I an editing wizz, I’d stitch together a perfect performance. (Before anyone fumes in righteous indignation, concert artists routinely edit their recordings. For example, there’s a well-known pianist who makes recordings by endlessly repeating passages, then edits together the best takes.) Unfortunately, I can only trim both ends of a take and nothing more. So whatever happens between start and finish, I have to live with it.

I made a fallback video first, intending then to do a series of takes in search of the perfect performance. After much cursing, a vestige of which you’ll see at the beginning, I said the hell with it and went with my fallback video. As it happens, this is a better idea, since the rough spots in my performance make for illuminating discussion, if not great listening.

In the week of practice before making this video, I at first despaired of getting Guardame to performance tempo. The problem was this: the tempo I wanted to play was just beyond where my right hand felt comfortable during rest stroke alternation. It seemed inevitable that I’d have to record the video below tempo. But as I got closer to recording day, I found my hand sometimes could almost handle the tempo I want for this piece. By Saturday morning—recording day—I decided to go for it and let the chips fall where they may.

What you’ll hear are very precise indices of where I am and how I practiced. For example, the initial run through the first variation goes well. On the repeat, however, I brighten the color by moving my hand closer to the bridge. Here the strings are a bit stiffer, and that requires a little more pressure from my fingers. That extra pressure pushes my hand beyond its current comfort zone. So in the brighter section beginning at the 1:15 mark, you’ll hear mistakes that were absent in the first run through the same section. Oddly, the mistakes happened not during the bright passage, but just after it. What happened is that my hand tightened up in the bright section, and I paid the price in the passage that followed.

Regarding how I practiced, I put much more work in the first variation, with its extended scales, than I put in the subsequent variations. That came back to bite me in the video. In the second variation there’s an extended scale (at the 1:44 mark) that still doesn’t feel good during rest stroke alternation. So not only was it scruffy in the video, but worrying about it also screwed up a non-scalar passage. On the bright side, this is strong evidence that more practice actually makes me better. Who knew?

And just so you’ll know: I use only free stroke in the theme section. Rest stroke doesn’t begin until the first variation.

Overall, this video is an object lesson on how unreliable technique steals competence, even in places where the technique is more reliable. Right now, I’m still in no man’s land. My right hand is creeping forward—compare this video to the one I made on May 1—but it still takes much concentration to hold it together when fast rest stroke alternation looms on the horizon. My goal is an easy rest stroke technique, one where I can push a button and simply play. My conscious thoughts while playing should be musical, not technical. Until I’m there, much work remains.

By the way, in the last week I’ve really started to enjoy the sound of rest stroke. On those rare occasions when a fast passage goes well, I’m approaching a creamy smoothness that I’ve long admired in other players. (It also reminds me of why I love my Fischer.) As any good player knows, rest stroke isn’t just a matter of loudness. It’s also a quality of sound. There are some who natter on about how rest stroke is unnecessary. Not for me. I want that color on my palette.

——[My next update will be August 8, 2011]——

1 comment:

Carey said...

After viewing your recent video, I wonder
if you've read Hector Quine's 'Guitar Technique',
esp pp 10-11. A useful little book.