In this post I’m reflecting not so much on last year’s students as on my own preparation for a forthcoming recital at the Gasteig (home of the Munich Philharmonic). One of the most valuable nuggets of wisdom that has come my way comes courtesy of the incomparable Stephen Hough. When something is just not working, (and yes, it happens to Mr Hough too) his advice is,
‘Take more time … There is always more time.’
What splendid advice this is, but as with many great teachers such advice can seem so obvious and trivial that it takes a seriously intelligent student to understand and benefit from it.
Of course, Mr Hough is not suggesting you should take so much time that the pulse of the music is disturbed. Neither is he recommending you insert unwarranted agogic accents under the guise of being ‘expressive’ but in reality to cover up a technical shortcoming. Essentially what he means is to take just enough time to collect a thought, or maybe to prepare an arm/hand/finger – whatever it is that is worrisome.
This is absolutely not about taking a fraction of a beat or any other time value that could be measured. It’s more a question of a psychological moment in time. From the point of view of your musical intention the extra time doesn’t exist, not to a listener or even to you in the sense of actual physical time. But the security a psychological moment can give may be all that’s needed to banish forever what seemed like an insurmountable difficulty.
More than with any other instrument, the piano owes a great deal to psychology, bluff, and black magic, whether we are talking about the instrument itself or the art of playing it. And indeed it is an art, not a science – a thought many a student could profit by, next time they look to their fingers for a solution to a difficulty.