Four weeks after Bill’s artistic breakthrough, in which he had discovered the power of being receptive to the beauty of each musical sound, he came into his lesson saying that he’d had more breakthroughs. He said his hands had relaxed a lot, and that he was hearing even more in the music. I was curious how he would play now.
He started playing the same Schumann slow movement, from the G Minor Sonata. Within a few bars I could almost not believe what I was hearing. He’d been working with me for a couple of years, and I’d always known he had a lot more music in him than was coming out. But all of a sudden, it was really happening. He was constantly bringing out gorgeous, jewel-like facets of the music—the kind of playing that I have heard only rarely, from a great artist. I was stunned, and tears came to my eyes.
After telling him how moving it was, I asked him how his hands felt. He said, “I feel like I’m not pressing the keys—it’s much less finger work. I’m starting to understand arm weight and how it can be used. Mainly, it’s about making sure my hands are not tight. It’s a question of balance and using the right amount of force. I feel like I’m dancing on the keys, not overplaying them. I’m not using a lot of friction or gripping.”
From what I observed, his whole playing mechanism was producing the sound in a much more integrated and natural way. His fingertips were more sensitive and alive. He was beginning to have a masterful connection to the piano.
We then went on to the Mozart A minor Rondo—a much more challenging piece. And while he wasn’t able to play this piece as well as the Schumann, he had brought it to a whole new technical and artistic evel.
In practicing our instrument, we focus a lot on one thing at a time—connecting to the sound, or to the sensations of touch and movement; delineating phrases or relaxing into the buildup of rhythmic momentum. But it all comes together in one experience of feeling the deep emotions inside the music and unlocking them for the listener. I had played this piece myself and heard it countless times. But Bill had integrated his particular experiences with it in such a way that he was able to reveal beauty in it that I had never heard before.
Everyone who has the urge to make music has their own personal connection to each piece they play or sing—so their own unique artistic gift that can shine through and touch other people. It’s an honor and privilege to guide someone toward offering their special gift.
Thank you, Bill, for consistently working to release the music that’s inside of you. It inspires me. And the amazing music you made that day remains vividly with me.
P.S. If you’re a pianist in the New York area and would like to explore how you can unleash the greatness within you, I invite you to check out my upcoming piano master class series, starting January 23.
P.P.S. And no matter what instrument you play, the Art of Practicing Institute invites you to apply to our legendary, transformative summer program, happening next July!