Practise: Prelude in C Minor No. 2 / J.S Bach

Something unexpected reared its head when I was listening back to the podcast I published on Friday night.

Although the conversation with Christina and Tom was warm and insightful, there were moments when as an audience member I felt like a bit of an imposter in the company of two professionals performers.

That made sense to me. After all, Christina and Tom both work in the same fields, have similar experiences and know their repertoire far, far better than I do. No surprise really. They live and breath it every day.

It got me thinking about what I could do to change that feeling of slight detachment I experience in the company of professional musicians.

Playing an instrument seems like a fairly simple way of meeting the imposter syndrome head on. So I dug out some music – the book of Bach Preludes and Fugues I had as a teenager at school – and started to play where the page fell.

So far, my pedestrian rendition of Prelude No. 2 in C Minor by J.S Bach is a painful process in comparison to Sviatoslav Richter’s lightning pace. It’s also going to take a long long while before I succeed in getting the motion as regular, tidy and painstakingly articulated as Glenn Gould. This comparison of eight different interpretations makes for an interesting listen too.

My playing was lumpy, slow, and demanded lots of slow practice underpinned by slavish concentration. It’s been a long time since I last played the piano (maybe 18 months), so the process was also quite revealing in terms of being able to notice what was going on in my head at the time.

What surprised me most was that there was quite so much internal dialogue interfering with my concentration as perhaps there had been in the past. I was able to quickly determine what the patterns were in the music. And, my fingers seemed to fall quite comfortably into position without very much thought too.

That’s not to say it was straightforward to play. There’s a sense of responsibility whenever I sit at the keyboard – the idea that I can’t possibly expect to play this up-to-speed unless I have invested a considerable amount of time making sure every detail has been covered over first. Faking it in order to play it feels like its doing composer and other performers a massive disservice. Approximating the music for the sake of tempo seems almost disrespectful.

That indulgence of practising slowly reveals the intense heat of the music – the industry in the semiquavers moving in contrary motion is incredibly satisfying. The proximity of the moving parts is also heart-warming. And the tiny shifts in harmonies from one bar to the next give proceedings a sense of elegance.

I’m going to keep on with it. A few bars at a time. Slow practice, with the movement as near to the finger joints as my concentration will let me. The meditative state that ensues is seductive, but I need to ensure I avoid over-practising. Through seeking perfection, I’d hate to extinguish the thrill of it.

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