December 11, 2011

The Effort of Effortless Music

It is sometimes considered a great compliment about a performance when it seems effortless. It is true that a labored performance is seldom fun to hear, but does apparently tension-free playing indicate a lack of hard work? Usually not. “Artistry is hard to memorize,” Tomoko knows. She goes on to say, “Each performance has to be completely controlled: simple, clean, and comfortable.”

Tomoko realizes the work that goes behind a public performance, and she appreciates and encourages effort. “The challenge is eighty percent of the music.” Tomoko notes that the pianist may struggle with the form, but that the real challenge is the interpretation. “No one can take away my interpretation.” Part of the challenge that is so rewarding is that each person’s challenge is unique, and it reveals each person’s qualities. “You cannot hide from yourself or how you play,” says Tomoko knowingly. In that respect, Tomoko says that effort should be pure and honest.

Not surprisingly, then, Tomoko’s hard work is not done to impress others, but rather is a self-examination to see how she can improve. She thinks to herself: “I have to try my best? Did I do it well? At the end of the day that’s how I feel.” She judges the ease of accomplishment, and feels most proud when she is able to play a difficult composition with deep understanding and technical competence. Tomoko muses, “If you’re in a zoo, you just get fed. If you’re in the jungle, you have to hunt, and that is good.” Likewise, when effort is made in learning to play and perform a piece, then it becomes more meaningful – and involves the performer more profoundly. The challenge is invigorating.

And playing the piano is a lifetime effort. Tomoko asserts, “Technique never goes away. Experience gets it together.” Tomoko worked as a young girl learning to play the piano: hours before school, weekend lessons that involved waiting hours for her teacher. She made a great effort coming to the U.S. to pursue her love of music.

Not only as a performer but also as a teacher does Tomoko put in effort. She says, “I spend hours thinking about a student’s problem, and how to solve it.” She tells her students that each piano piece is a little challenge. She encourages them to keep trying, to keep moving. She connects playing to mountain climbing, constantly walking up the hill while keeping hold of the music. She continues the metaphor, “When you reach the top and master the piece, then you look back at where you came from. That is a good feeling, a feeling of accomplishment.” As a teacher, Tomoko provides students with direction so they can climb up the musical mountain effectively. Not surprisingly, Tomoko likes the challenge of teaching, and learns from her students’’ growth.

Tomoko’s performance shows the rewards of that lifetime of effort and artistry. The listener gets to enjoy the fruits of that labor.

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