Memory.

November 14, 2008 at 7:40 am Leave a comment

I promised a few weeks ago that I’d say something about Memory.  Not the Andrew Lloyd Webber song.  Playing from memory.  Once again we move into piano land as I start to prepare for some winter concerts I have planned.  Ever since Clara Schumann in the 1800’s played concerts without taking the printed music onto the stage, pianists have followed her lead and played from memory in public.  Thanks, Clara.

I can really only speak for myself, but I am a MUCH better pianist and musician when I am playing from memory.  I am also a MUCH more stressed, neurotic, paranoid, careful
pianist when playing from memory.  And why not?  In a typical piano recital a pianist might play tens of thousands of notes!  So these notes (and only these notes) must be played in the right order, at the right time, with the right sound, color, etc.  Now, you may say, some of those notes are in chords.  True.  My right hand can play five or six notes at once and so can my left.  Although you do remember these chords as a whole, much like you remember words and not individual letters, each of the notes has musical purpose and has to be remembered as such.  No free pass here.

Memorizing is pretty easy.  It’s learning.  It’s understanding.  Demonstrating the results of that memorization in front of a group of interested listeners is something ALTOGETHER different.  It’s stressful, worrisome, terrifying.  It’s walking the tightrope without a net.  Okay, so nobody dies if you screw up.  Instead with memory failure, you experience embarrassment, public humiliation, disgrace, the horrible feeling of panic when you’re in the middle of catastrophe in front of an audience….

So to me, the idea of memory has two distinct components:  Learning–understanding, analyzing, comprehending, internalizing, memorizing— and testing–going through every possible scenario, testing knowledge, making sure not only that disaster is not terminal, but that there IS no disaster.  Going through every possible scenario isn’t really what it seems.  Every possible scenario is not really possible.  With tens of thousands of notes, just imagine how many possibilities that might be? Instead there are tricks, ways of seeing and hearing that provide a redunancy of resources of knowledge and confidence when you’re on the stage.

Okay, so I’ll stop there.  It’s a blog, not a textbook.  More later on what learning is—to me, anyway—and what memory testing is.

Entry filed under: theories. Tags: , , , , , .

What a Week! Mattresses, tutus and Midori.

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