This story describes one of the primary ingredients in overcoming performance anxiety: achieving a full connection with the constantly shifting human energies in a piece of music.
After discovering how to let go of excess tension in his arms and play more freely and powerfully, Brian came into his next lesson a little carried away with his newfound power—playing with lots of free arm movements and bold phrasing, but without his characteristic sensitivity. He was having a good time, but like Evan in last week’s story, he had taken a good thing too far.
I told him in playing with physical freedom he didn’t have to exclude subtlety and sensitivity— that he could integrate the two. Then I pointed out many places in the Debussy Arabesque where he could bring out delicate changes of color. Although it was challenging for him to re-integrate his natural sensitivity with the power he had recently discovered, he started getting the hang of it and began to express a much bigger range of sound.
Balancing power and sensitivity in making music is a lifetime practice for all of us. What we usually think of as power at the piano—strong physical force—is a masculine kind of power, which we definitely need. But there’s another kind of power that is feminine—our ability to connect with our soft heart, to feel exquisite beauty and tenderness. To be deeply touched by music. This is our sensitivity.
It really stretches us to bring out all the different energies in great music. But when we practice combining masculine and feminine power in constantly changing musical form, we develop our full expressive power.
At his previous lesson, Brian had released the tension he’d been holding in his arms from his fear of using excessive force. Now he needed to relax even further by tuning in more to the subtleties in the music so that his fingers could respond naturally to what he heard.
Musicians often become tense trying too hard to bring out musical subtlety. But what I asked Bryan to do was to just notice how these sounds made him feel. He had done that before, so he knew how. It was amazing to watch him expand his expressive range on the spot.
I’m looking forward hearing how Brian plays as his expressive range expands.
Here’s to more expressive freedom in your performances!