All bent over at the piano

It just shows how much the classical music armchair critics don’t know. They are those self-appointed authorities on all matters of classical music. They were lining up in their cult-like gushing adoration for this 15-year old pianist I saw recently playing the Rachmaninov Second. He played exceptionally well for his age and by that I mean that I’ve heard many internationally-known concert artist play the Rachmaninov. This 15-year old pianist played with the same maturity, finesse and polish as any well-trained pianist older than himself. Well, the classical music armchair critics — have they ever studied music or an instrument? — said they had never heard it played like that before. Really? Well doh. I don’t know where they’ve been or what pianists they listened to, but many pianists play it the way this guy did, very clean playing and with the same level of polish, with each pianist having their own interpretation of course. But no one in the comments commented on the pianist’s form at the piano. Particularly his posture. He was very bent over at times, especially in the second movement with his face about one foot away, if that, from the keyboard. And by sitting this way, he’s not supporting his back. One does not need to be all hunched over while playing the piano, and this is something his teacher should have corrected, otherwise this boy is going to have lower back problems at some point. Unknowingly, apparently I used to do this to a degree before my training at the Conservatory where I studied. I don’t think I was ever as bent over as this guy. But I remember my second piano professor saying on multiple occasion, “Please sit up tall and support your back, and shoulder’s down.” And he would stand behind me and push my shoulders down while I was playing for him, which I tended to raise in heavy chord passages. But to this day I sit up tall and am very alert to my form, sitting up tall and keeping my shoulders down. In fact, it hurts my back to see a pianist all bent over. It’s bad posture and is terrible form at the piano. It was tempting for me to politely say something to him about this in a comment, but I chose not to because he likely wouldn’t have appreciated it and would have deleted the comment. And, I’m not his teacher and that’s the job of the teacher, not some commenter. Apparently the armchair critics didn’t even notice it since no one said a word about it, and they never shy away from writing anything. So I suspect none of them noticed. Shows what they know, or don’t! I thought they claimed to be experts and authorities on all matters of classical music? That’s the impression they like to give. Instead, they had turned the comment section into an embarrassing mess of syrupy drivel and the adoration of the Floating Cloud Being with some writing, “Glory to God in the Highest.” For the Rachmaninov Second? WTF? I was expecting to read The Nicene Creed in some comment! One would have thought that the video was about a Russian Orthodox Liturgy rather than this kid playing the Rachmaninov Second. Well I should say that this pianist uploaded his video near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many commenters were writing the most emotionally-flipped out comments “in quarantine” as if many people had gone insane. That’s also something I noticed about most of the people in my apartment building, especially the females. They turned into completely different people than the people I had known them to be. It’s as if they completely flipped out too and turned to organised religion at the beginning of COVID-19 writing a lot of syrupy drivel. I started avoiding them. I think the planet has now gone into insane mode, and there’s not much we can do about it. Mi amigo/My friend noticed this pianist’s posture and asked me: Why doesn’t his teacher correct that? Well, probably because the teacher plays the same way. All hunched over with bad posture too. That’s one of my problems with the teacher/student relationship and that’s, in some cases, some students feel they must mirror their teacher. Anything the teacher does, the student must look like an exact copy. So the student will look like an exact replica of the professor. This happened to some degree at the Conservatory where I trained. One could tell who was studying with whom by the way they played, meaning their form or style at the piano. Some students took it to the extreme. I found it a turn off of sorts. I would be watching a student pianist in solo recital or accompanying and thinking, “Oh here we go, s/he is imitating his/her professor to the extreme and their playing style.” That all seems a bit ridiculous to me.

I suspect the same thing happens with other musicians. I don’t think what I’m talking about here is solely limited to pianists. It’s just more obvious, I think, with pianists than with other instrumentalists.

Fortunately, nearly all pianists I see today in the EU sit up tall and are not all bent over like a wilted flower, hunched over and don’t make my back ache just from watching them. But then there is the exception on occasion, and this 15-year old guy was the exception. And at his level of excellence, it’s not the case that he needs to clearly see the keys up close. The texture he was playing he was likely playing by feel and on automatic pilot having drilled it so much to be able to play it as fluently as he did, so one does not have to have one’s face on the keyboard to see it. It’s all played by feel.

I should also mention that the 15-year old pianist is Russian, which normally, has nothing to do with anything and I’d see no reason to even mention his ethnicity. But I mention it only because the conservative and nationalistic classical music armchair critic idiots were dwelling on this. They fail to understand that music is the international language — not a nationalistic language — touching people of all ethnic groups and crossing all geographic human-created borders regardless of where one was born or trained. So some were going on about the Russian School of Piano Playing, as if there’s one way to be taught piano playing in the Russian School. Not that I’ve noticed from observing some Russian pianists. Like with any other School of Music or Conservatory, it depends upon which professor one studies with. For example, this 15-year old Russian pianist was, as I said earlier, all bent over at the piano. Yet I’ve seen other Russian pianists from the Russian School sit up tall and not be all hunched over at all. So, there’s not a consistency in form or playing style in the Russian School from what I’ve observed. And the Russian School has this undeserved reputation for producing “banging” pianists. I don’t much adhere to that thinking. One can find some pianists all over the world who bang at times when playing, regardless of where they trained. So I don’t think that “banging” is limited to the Russian School. I’ve used teaching materials for piano students from the Russian School and they were good. Also, just like with the Voice Department (and probably other instrumental departments), there can be politics involved in the Keyboard Department of a University’s School of Music or a Conservatory over differences in teaching styles. And they can get pretty nasty (and immature) at times. Chau.—el barrio rosa