Day two is over – and perhaps a little early but my hands are “drunk on notes”, to quote a fellow participant. The class only lasted the morning today and it was good to hear more from those tackling some really big works and also get the first movement – albeit an excerpt – of the Prokofiev I am learning presented to the group. I survived and it was good to get up there again and deal with the nerves of performing in front of the others.
It had been noted by the assistant teacher on the course that my practice yesterday was far too ‘stammering’. Rather than trying to learn the notes I was ‘thinking too much with my fingers’ – a concept I thought I understood but I actually hadn’t! I needed to decide the fingering for the passagework – certainly I needed to know the fingering for everything(!) – and bully my fingers into learning through repetitive practice. I kept trying things out and doing different things – this kind of exploratory practice would in fact not be the best use of my time. So I called it a day after three hours. I can see that there is a great deal to learn in terms of notes and I need to get my fingering fixed so I can get teaching my fingers. It seems I have been giving my fingers too much credit and need to think less with them and get drilling them.
It wasn’t until I started learning with Kenneth van Barthold that the mechanics of practice and the process of learning passages actually started to make sense. Not to discredit all the incredibly inspiring teacher I had before him but he has an immense skill for explaining and mapping out the learning process with real rigour. A testament to this is seeing the other participants who have worked with him for a number of years and how enthusiastic they are for the level of work that is expected.
The Prokofiev sonata presents some interesting pianistic challenges – in that perhaps the figurations are not as easy to produce as the Fauré Nocturne. I feel more at home with the Prokofiev, however, as I feel I can connect with the compositional intrigue of the work and follow his approach. There is also something rather choreographic about learning this kind of music and I enjoy the process of working out the movements, and connecting gestures that will allow me to perform complete sections and in turn complete movements. Whether or not I will reach the necessary stamina to perform the work complete – or indeed have all the notes bullied in my fingers – in under three weeks seems a rather steep challenge. I hope my brainless fingers are up for it, because I am.