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Corwin Slack

Not ugly...

March 8, 2009 at 4:10 AM

When I was studying regularly, my teacher tried to get me to play things artistically. He was always talking about harmony, the function of notes in chords, form, etc. etc. I felt like a kindergartener in a post graduate lecture on nuclear physics. He chided me. "Don't you want to know this". Of course I wanted to know but I don't have years to study, don't play the piano, don't have a particularly remarkable ear and all the other foundational things that define an artist.

But I found another course. My teacher studied piano with the late Cecile Genhart. One day he was about to play and she told him to stop. He replied that he hadn't played yet. She said in her Swiss-German accent "it was going to be ugly".

If I can't make it beautiful perhaps I can make my music not ugly. I once posted a list here of things that make music ugly like false accents, clumsy string crossings etc. but lists don't work well without some "key of knowledge."

I think I may have found my key of knowledge. Focus on the last note. The last note of what? The last note of a phrase, the last note of a bow, the last note of a motif or figure, the last note before a rest, etc. This has a strange way of forcing you to prepare well for the last note and forces you to consider the 'run-up' to the last note.

I won't claim that this makes my playing beautiful. I still don't have the harmonic, formal and aesthetic tools to realize beauty except in the most accidental way but I am learning the tools to making something 'not ugly'.



From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on March 8, 2009 at 7:59 PM

Is this universal?  It is so true! We always neglect the last notes of phrases while pros don't! This is probably because we want to rush through!  Bad bad habit, I know...

Have a nice day!



From Corwin Slack
Posted on March 8, 2009 at 10:05 PM

I read this blog to my wife this afternoon. She sings in the local symphony chorus. They will soon be performing some Bruckner motets that have extended a capella passages. She says that they have worked very much on how to end a word so that it doesn't affect the beauty of the sound. This focus on a correct finish forces them into making a better sound before. 

I mentioned in my previous blog that the community orchestra I play in is performing Beethoven Symphony No. 4. When I started to focus on the last note I came to realize just how ugly the rest of the ensemble sounded.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on March 8, 2009 at 10:56 PM


this is very similar to the application of Alexander Technique in music making.  One has to be in the moment to produce great art.  Most people are never actually in now for their whole life. They live in the past or are anxious about the future.  This is exemplifierd in music making,  especially at phrase endings where a poor player is already mentally in the next passage without taking care of now.

But now is all there is....



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