August 19, 2012

Exercising the Piano

Mastering the piano requires exercise, both physical or mental. So asserts Tomoko Hagiwara: “That is why I keep in shape.”

Tomoko states, “Every performance has to be completely controlled. Simple, clean, comfortable.” That level of competence requires hours and months of exercise, both to play well technically as well as to lend meaning to the piece. “Musical form can be challenging. Tomoko remarks, “Artistry is hard to memorize.” In addition, different pieces require additional expertise; Tomoko explains, “Schumann is hard to perform – you need a lot of spirit and imagination.”

Musical playing can start at any age, but its exercise has to be sensitive of developmental issues. “Technical skill is basic, like math,” says Tomoko, “and it grows as the body does.” For instance, some of Liszt’s pieces require a wide hand spread so should be played when the fingers are longer. Bach is easier to play because of his use of chords. “Technique never goes away. Experience gets it together,” Tomoko asserts. “Behind each professional is experience.”

Likewise, interpretation develops as the learner grows emotionally and experiences life.  Tomoko compares musical interpretation to reading: “When you grow up you have a different experience reading the same passage than when you are younger.” So too will the same musical passage take on different meaning as an adult. Mozart is a prime example of that belief: “He is easy for children, but hard for adults,” says Tomoko.

Tomoko links other types of bodily exercise to music. “A music teacher sent a student of hers to ballet school for two weeks, and the student came back with a greater perspective and appreciation of the physicality of music.” Tomoko also believes that music can help other areas of exercise. “Jog with music to escape,” she says, ”Choose music by its rhythm in order to center yourself.”

As a teacher, Tomoko exercises her students mentally in order for them to perform better. “Challenge is good. I tell them don’t start at beginning – start with the hardest.  Then the rest comes easily.  You can’t be sloppy.” She is reminded of a student who practiced at his teacher’s house four hours at a time. “He knew that he must play the piece correctly.”

Listening is another part of the exercise experience. Students should play together, and listen to each other,” says Tomoko. You can stretch your mind – and spirit – by listening to Tomoko’s performance, which is the result of many years of dedicated physical, mental and emotional exercise. Try her take on Liszt:

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