Murray Perahia: Music to my feet

October 21, 2009, 9:21 AM ·

 All my life I've been tapping my toes to the beat. After being scolded by a college music professor for tapping my foot on the hard orchestra floor, I learned how to silently tap my toe inside my shoe without giving off an improperly placed ictus. It's easy to feel rhythm in your feet, but for the first time in my life, this week I heard music with my feet.

Last Tuesday Pianoman (my husband) and I puddle-jumped our way to the world famous Walt Disney Concert Hall downtown to hear a living piano legend present a solo recital. Murray Perahia is an exciting pianist, who takes his tempi enough on the brisk side that we both sat at the edges of our seats, waiting to see him spontaneously combust. Pianoman is always asked by the little blue-haired ladies in the audience, "How on earth do you move your fingers so fast?" After the Perahia concert, PM said to me, "I think we need to rephrase that age old question and ask: 'WHY on earth do you move your fingers so fast?" His performance was fulfilling and tasteful, with about one major*splat* per piece. I guess occasional inaccuracy is the price you pay for "going for it!" There's just something to be said about almost losing control.

The woman sitting directly in front of us was certainly enjoying the concert in her own way. Because of the dim lighting in the audience and the spotlights on the stage, all I could see was her silhouette: short, spiky hair, a loooong neck and pokey-outie ears with totem pole earrings hanging down. She bobbed and swaaaayed, forward and back and side-to-side in a sort of lopsided crucifix shape throughout every piece as her dangly earrings made a sort of peg-legged after beat.

Listening to any concert in that Hall is a remarkable experience, no matter who you are. From the moment you walk in, the hall feels alive, as though the combined breath of every composer who ever lived has blown up the ceiling like an enormous musical bellows. The scattered pick-up-stix organ pipes seem like the colorful sea anemones from Sebastian's "Under the Sea" production number and, though I was unable to detect with my bare eyes, they too must have been dancing along to Chopin's Mazurkas.

Every surface in the hall, except the upholstered stadium seats, is made of reflective, acoustically perfect wood. In an effort to counterbalance the extreme gyrations of the lady in front me and avoid getting seasick, I tried to sit as still and as calmly as possible. I did not cross my legs, but sat with both feet flat on the floor - and that's when the magic started to happen. At first I only noticed it on the lowest bass notes of the piano but before long, the whole building - floors, walls, ceiling and air seemed to vibrate and sing together. It was more than just feeling the vibrations in my feet...I heard the musical pitches with my feet. I learned in my college physics class that sound waves are converted to liquid waves after bouncing around on the tympanic membrane in our ears and that the liquid waves travel through our inner ear, carrying the sound to our brain, which then discerns and discriminates the difference between the sound of breaking glass and beginning violin students, subtle though it may be. Somehow, someway, those musical vibrations enveloped me and it was more than just the tympanic membrane sending sound messages to my brain. It felt a little like sensory overload and my brain just couldn't keep up with all of the stimuli. The melodies danced around my heart and mind in a sort of spiritual healing ritual, akin to some of the most moving spiritual experiences of my life. This is how music should make us feel - like a Divine presence is gracing us with a glimpse into Heaven. 

Pianoman and I often talk about our increasing love for Opera. This has been a very mature taste for us to develop, almost entirely acquired after leaving our "formal" university education. Though our hearts ache to hear the lilting Puccini arias and we chuckle at Mozart's sense of humor, we can't help but wonder, "Why didn't Brahms write an opera?" We have decided amongst ourselves that in a medium so transcendental as opera and with a composer so heartfelt as Brahms, that his opera was not meant for this world. I am looking forward to hearing that work on the other side, in the Celestial halls (not likely funded by Walt Disney) of Heaven.

The lesson learned this week is that in the pursuit of beauty and loveliness in the world, it may come in unexpected places and ways. Be not afraid to hear the melody with your feet!


October 21, 2009 at 10:21 PM ·

I used to listen to a tape of Murray playing Beethoven over and over when I was like in junior high.  I think hearing positive music does something to our chemical makeup that can alter us for the better.  I took a class called osteophonie in college that helped students feel sound vibrations in various parts of their bodies.  Sound waves 'hit' us everywhere; it just kind of depends on how strong they are vs how sensitive we are in our bodies to feel that.  Thanks for the post! 

October 22, 2009 at 05:26 PM ·

What a great blog, Carrie!

It made me think about singers, who frequently talk about the resonating skull. Some vocal teachers even keep a model skeleton in the studio to demonstrate! Certainly, playing a violin can make our bones resonate, it transmits directly. Sometimes, if I'm holding a coffee cup while a student is playing, I can feel the vibrations as well, or they transmit into the fiddle I'm holding.

Music is a very physical phenomenon!

October 22, 2009 at 07:34 PM ·

That's great writing, very descriptive!  I especially like the woman in front of you with the " loooong neck".  I visualize her sort of like a dancing giraffe.  Thanks.

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