Piano technique – Arousing the senses with the flair of piano music 

It was the eve of the general election. The country has been obsessing about who was going to be the next Prime Minister for months now, the frenzy has hit a fever pitch and the day of reckoning has finally arrived. 

I was sipping tea at one of the ubiquitious street cafes downtown while waiting for the Penang Philharmonic Chorus and Strings Orchestra to perform Italian Choral Classics at the E & O Hotel just across the road. 

Besides rigourous practise, an aspiring pianist learns from many sources to improve her piano technique. Watching another pianist perform, listening to recitals and absorbing the full range of music brought out by a philharmonic orchestra. 

Hoping to learn something here I was, the ten dollar a seat ticket seemed like a small price to pay if the experience could improve my articulation, expression and flair of the music I was playing on the piano. The gain from improved piano technique is priceless. 

It began to dawn on me how quite the area was. The nightclubs were empty, none of the usual bevy of beauties in stilettos were seen and no loud music screaming from the giant boom box were heard. Where is everybody? Even the young and restless have decided to take a rest tonight to wake up early the next day to cast their votes.

Not so for 23 members of the string orchestra and 60 members of the chorus. They were enjoying the cocktails in the hotel garden. It is still about an hour away before they had to be onstage, who could resist the breathtaking view of the harbour and the coast of Penang from this location.

The orchestra was to be conducted by Martin Rutherford. After extensive experience teaching music in England, Scotland and Australia, he fell in love with this beautiful island and has made Penang his home with his wife Mary for the past three years. Instead of idling away on one of its white sandy beaches, he has continued to share his experience in music and contribute to the local culture. We are lucky to have you here, Martin.

He led the orchestra to a sublime performance of Baetus Vir by Monteverdi, Adagio by Albinoni, Largo by Vivaldi and Magnificat by Pergolesi entertaining the awestruck audience in the first half of the concert.

These were music composed for the churches. During the period when they were written it was the churches with the wealth they controlled that comissioned the songs. As the public became more affluent and cultured, the appreciation of the music expanded beyond the hallways of the monastaries into theatres and peoples’ homes. Most the ones performed in the first half of the concert were unknown to me, but one was familiar – Adagio was made famous in the film ‘Gallipoli’. 

The chorus turned the excitement up a notch after the interval with the harmonious combination of their sultry voices, be it the ladies in the sopranos corner or the gentlemen in the tenor section of the choir. They sang works such as the Chorus of Hebrew Slaves by Verdi, Nessun Dorma by Puccini, Intermezzo by Mascagni and O Sole Mio by Di Capua. 

How well can you express these compositions when playing them on the piano? Can one acquire the piano technique necessary to make music so wonderful? 

These were questions I agonized over during the drive home after the concert. The music I have been exposed to were absolutely gorgeous to listen to, now if only I could replicate them on my own on the piano. 

It would involve sharpening my piano technique, digging deep into my heart to bring out the expression the music intends to convey and having the correct sense of articulation to execute the melodies to perfection. Continue reading part 2 of 'Piano technique – Arousing the senses with the flair of piano music.'

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