Learning a piano song - Fantasie in C Major by Schumann

This piano song by Schumann was one of the songs in Elaine Yap's repertoire performed on the night of her recital. Watching her play was a learning experience not to be forgotten.


For the love of the music
Relishing the piano song in itself is contentment

How many songs did Schumann compose in his lifetime? Who were his peers, was he friends with Mozart and Beethoven? The little niece is getting on my nerves with her never ending questions. Never mind that Elaine was up there on stage displaying how a polished pianist renders Schumann’s Fantasie in C Major Op.17 appropriately.

It did make me a feel a little bit guilty ( …though only for a split second… ) that I could not answer her questions, my flaw is unlike the intellectuals who learn to play the piano; those enviable prodigies who can spit out the title of every song Schumann ever composed, I cannot. Reason? Because I could not care less.

It’s music alone was the sole reason I wanted to learn how to play the piano.

Take ‘Fantasie in C Major’ for example, the second movement in Op.17 featured a series of leaps not only intended to highlight Elaine’s pianistic skills but more importantly the resulting music injected a dose of freshness into my soul lifting my spirits up and I dare say in others listening in the audience as well. The similar effect piano music had on me years ago was what drove me to take up lessons in the first place. Who could resist playing music so gorgeous and feeling the keys under my fingertips, what a sensation!

Improve by leaps and bounds
Loose shoulders and arms maketh the piano song

Making leaps from one note to another at a higher octave call for using the arms. The shoulders have to be relaxed so that the arms be allowed to swing the distance and land accurately on the target notes. Such skills are perfected over years of persistent practice fuelled by passion. Fuel that Elaine seemed to have in abundance judging from her performance.

Then there is the last movement in ‘Fantasie in C Major’ regarding which the program booklet that was distributed among the audience described as “…more openly songful patches that create their own swells of passionate climax and subsiding emotion…”

I have no clue what that is suppose to mean either.

However, Elaine’s stoic rendition of the last movement solved the mystery.

Essence of the music
Understand the piano song makes it playable

Using her built-in security in the fingers acquired through rigorous practice no doubt, and clarity of mind, she allowed the piano music to interpret itself. As her expert fingers pressed the keys deeply to generate a stronger sound, it was meant to express the passionate climax.

When she played gently by making contact with the keys using soft delicate touches coaxing out the sound from the piano that never rose above pianissimo, it was meant to express the subsiding emotion.

With a polished pianist such as Elaine the music’s meaning could be understood by just listening to her play.

To acquire security in the fingers like the one she possesses, the piano student needs to stick to a consistent fingering selection and practice the combination repeatedly. Security in the fingers is built through repetition. Start by practicing is short sections, once noticing that you have become secure enough extend to longer sections.

Similar can be said about getting clarity of mind. Through repeated practice the mind paints a clearer picture of each bar, phrase and eventually the whole piece. When I start to learn a new song I would play hands separately from start to finish without attempting to fix the many playing mistakes. The purpose was to become familiar with the rhythm and melody first. The gritty details would be corrected only after I gained insight into the music’s character.

Elaine demonstrated how playing with relaxed arms and shoulders enables the pianist to make the distant leaps to play notes at a higher octaves, through repetition security in the fingers is built and clarity of mind is obtained - pianistic skills that inspired me to the point that I lost myself in the music almost neglecting the niece sitting beside me. She ended ‘Fantasie in C Major’ with a feather-like lightness of dropping of the arms to let her fingers touch the last keys of the final notes as soft as possible, making the music to sing in a whisper before fading away.

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