The piano and the musician: A blogger's musings on the instrument she loves
The piano is one of the most intimidating instruments in all its glory, intimidating to play, to study, to compose for, and to buy. It's also one of the most satisfying for this one musician.
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But not only is the piano intimidating to compose for. When searched, the piano comes up on every list of “most popular instruments.” There are countless pianists out in the world, and there is always a feeling deep inside many pianists out there that someone is better than me. Pianists are expected to have large repertoires and be able to sight-read well (and we have to read two clefs at once!). It’s also a scary place to be in as a pianist because of the solidarity of the position. Orchestras don’t have 15 piece piano sections. Music pieces don’t often call for four pianos. Unfortunately, politics often invade music, and competition is part of that; because the ratio of professional piano positions and pianists is probably one of the lowest ratios in the world of music, that leaves a lot of musicians cringing at their benches. It's easy to feel trapped if our vision gets clouded with these politics.Skip to next paragraph
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Maybe the piano’s intimidation factor also has to do with the celebrity of the instrument. Even with the seemingly long history mentioned previously, the ideas that comprised the inventions of the piano have been present for ages. Simple stringed instruments were some of the earliest instruments, and since when has percussion not been a part of music? African mbilas, or thumb pianos, were present in Mozambique in 1,000 B.C.
The medieval instrument called the dulcimer was a trapezoidal stringed instrument that was struck with hammers in the player’s hands. The clavichord is even the instrument depicted with St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music itself! The piano isn’t only a sound-maker, but a legend. It sits on its (most often) three legs, holding in the air a chamber filled with enormous potential that everyone is aware of. What child, in one way or another, hasn’t heard the infectious melody lines and bright, refreshing arpeggios that can come out of that mysterious thing that sits in their grandparents' house? It’s scary to attempt magic on a legend like that.
Despite all the daunting aspects of the grand instrument, the piano, like I said, is easily the most satisfying instrument I’ve ever played. As a child, it’s exciting to sit down in front of those 88 black and white keys, even if it took a little coaxing to get to that point. Unlike, say, an oboe or a viola, a piano can sound magical to anyone who attempts it. This is not only a motivating characteristic, but it can kindle a love for music in a child early on.
When I was little, I always wanted to play my newest learned piece for my music class at school, and I could often be found performing for dinner guests. Growing up learning the piano allows me to have a stronger sense of music theory even if it is something I never took formal classes for or spent lots of time on. Like a sheet of graph paper for math, the piano is the perfect instrument for understanding theory—it’s all laid out for you. Because so many composers write for the piano, I learned about key composers and styles of music at a younger age due to my attraction to anything containing piano.
I learned about the importance of storytelling in pieces since the piano so often is a solo instrument. If I ever want to pursue a career in composition, I have already learned the fundamental instrument! And, even though my devotion for music was kindled by my local music community and my own venturing greatly, the emotions that are brought out so naturally by playing the piano most definitely planted the seed of loving music.
So what about those composers and professional pianists? Well, for them, the piano serves as a source of motivation. Composers, you can conquer the all mighty beast. Though scary at first, it probably feels like finishing a marathon when a piano piece is done being written! As for pianists, we just have to remind ourselves why we love playing piano--for the music. We are the ultimate accompanist, and despite the scarce amount of solo positions out there, there will always be an open position for a piano in a chamber ensemble.
Plus, there's nothing that will ever stop us playing. I was sitting at my little 6 foot the other day, thinking about all the man-made politics that surround music, when I played a chord, sustained it, and stuck my head over the fallboard and near the pegs. I felt the vibrations of the clear sound in my skull, pulled my head out and thought, “That all comes from this?” Maybe all that stress really isn’t necessary.
So, perhaps that same musician is getting a little sleepy. He drinks his nightly cup of coffee, brushes his teeth, and gets into his pajamas. He turns off the lights and climbs into bed. He goes to sleep, and in his dreams is that beautiful, legendary, motivational, and loving piano.
Elena blogs at Neo Antennae.
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