2011 MTNA Conference – Sunday Afternoon: Expressive Performance

Edna Golandsky, artistic director and co-founder of the Golandsky Institute, presented a session on how to move from the basics of reading and counting to performances filled with rhythmic vitality, long lines, and beautiful sound.

Her presentation stems from years of working with very advanced pianists and trying to help figure out what it would take to make their playing more musical. The missing element, she discovered, was rhythmic aliveness. She used a Chopin Mazurka to demonstrate her technique points throughout the session. She studied with Dorothy Taubman at one point and implemented many of her principles in her discussion on proper technique.

She said that many people are so afraid of playing the left hand too loud that they play it too soft. It should not be played either too soft or too loud. The left hand is what makes this a Mazurka. You could play the right hand with another left hand and it would no longer be a Mazurka. She also emphasized the importance of the beat in aiding musical expressions. It’s like a collaboration of different things happening at the same time at the piano. Use the arm to shape the tone. Use the balance of voices to help control the beat.

Ms. Golandsky said she is often prompted to find solutions when problems start driving her crazy and she can no longer tolerate them. 🙂  Another issue that drove her crazy was that longer notes would lose the shape of the line with the fading of the sound. She likened it to someone speaking with emotion and dropping out the sound every few words. Often long notes occur on the downbeat. Usually the first beat is the most important. Every beat has a different role in the measure that is expressed by the shaping of the phrase. She loves Jazz music and enjoys giving music more of a swing, a lilt.

Next, Ms. Golandsky played a portion of the second movement of the Schubert B-flat Sonata. She said that usually we just hear the right hand. It’s gorgeous, but it needs a left hand. When passages are marked pianissimo, pianists tend to hold up, creating tension. They are afraid of coming down too hard into the keys. You have to play into the key from the shoulder and release slowly. She asked the audience what the left hand sounds like. It’s actually dance-like. She went on to express the importance of openly asking, “What does it sound like?” Don’t lock composers into one style of composing. Don’t be afraid of the different sounds that you hear and recognize in the music. Another section resembled a tolling bell.

If you stop on the long notes, you are always starting over and breaking up the phrase. Big notes, long notes, have to be projected more to carry the sound into the next note. The process is a bit mysterious. You have to learn how to make the movements to create the desired sound. Legato effect is produced through tone, shaping, and pedaling. Again, the collaboration of the voices is key to achieving the tone quality in order to advance to the next level.

Ms. Golandsky took about 10 minutes to answer questions from the audience.

1. How do you play loudly without a wrist break or a harsh sound?
Harsh sound is creating by playing very fast into the key. Only two choices create a loud sound: 1. Going loudly into the key; and 2. Play into the key slowly, but use the forearm. The best loud sound is actually achieved utilizing a very counter-intuitive approach. Pain almost always comes from pushing into the keys too quickly.

What’s the role of your torso when you play?
Be sure you sit an appropriate distance so that you don’t fall off or crowd yourself. The torso, just like the upper arm, should always be following as you move up or down the keys. Whenever you play two hands, the torso should be in between the two. There should always be a slight forward leaning.

Is there a specific place on your fingers that you should play to achieve the desired shaping?
We tend to go from one extreme to another – either playing always in one spot or moving too much from one key to the next. The goal is to move the minimal amount in and out of the keys to create the best tone. Anticipate the coming notes to move in and out of the keys without breaking the line. Always consider the context in order to determine the details.

How do you play fast loud passages?
Release more weight at the same moment to achieve a louder sound. It is the role of the forearm. Keep the alignment at all times. We intuitively force more to get more sound, but the sound for both soft and loud are produced the same way.

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