Enjoying the beat

1st July 2009 | Concerts, Musings | 0 comments

I’ve started to prepare for the next festival I’m involved in, the annual chamber music festival of the Gaudier Ensemble. It takes place in the lovely old village of Cerne Abbas in Dorset in July. This year I have a few little piano solos and ten different chamber works to prepare, ranging from a Haydn piano concerto with string quartet and double bass to Brahms trios, the Dvorak piano quintet, and Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time.

There’s also a programme of early-20th-century music inspired by jazz: Milhaud, Martinu, Walton, Billy Mayerl. As I was practising some of the piano parts today, I noticed how different my posture and body language is when I’m playing jazzy music. It’s to do with the importance of the regular beat for dancing, I think. In many classical works, my concern is often to make the bar-lines disappear so that the phrase-lengths can be longer. I want to give a feeling of progressing through the music in huge strides. I tend to sit fairly still as I play and try to breathe deeply.

However, such an approach doesn’t feel right for jazzy music. The constant re-assertion of the beat, which feels so right for toe-tapping and hand-clapping, makes me bounce along with it as I play. Here the focus is not so much on deep breaths and long phrases as on the delightfulness of the moment, the energy of the pulse, and the utter reliability of the beat. To make those beats disappear would be against the spirit of the music.

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