Friday, October 24, 2008

Hocus Pocus With A Focus

This post is for my open-minded, younger readers, in the spirit of Halloween.

One of the most daunting tasks for many young artists is the memorization of solo pieces, J.S. Bach in particular. Fear plays a large factor. Many times an artist psyches herself into believing she'll fail at memorization. In an East Coast music festival during my student years, I played the Chaconne from Partita in D Minor in recital. My mantra was: I'll forget the notes, I'll forget the notes. And of course, I forgot the notes. A huge chunk of the arpeggiated middle section vanished, transforming my rendition into a condensed version. I clocked about seven minutes rather than thirteen. To my great fortune, harpsichordist and Baroque specialist Kenneth Cooper, sat in the audience. Later, Cooper suggested I practice Bach in a totally different manner. "Switch off the lights in the practice room," he said,"play by candlelight. Transform the setting, step back in time, and open yourself to the Spirit." Is it any wonder Kenneth Cooper is renowned for his improvisations and extraordinary authenticity in ornamentation? There is no match for a vivid imagination and sense of curiosity. And to me nowadays, there is no greater pleasure than stealing off in a corner to practice Bach. Fantasy rather than fear.

As artists, we are entitled to escape from the mundane existence of ordinary life. My former teacher, Erick Friedman, maintained that he spoke with his dead mother as he played the slow movement from a Mozart Concerto in Tacoma. Friedman's sense of grief diminished following the performance. A musician's trance is often compared to prayer, the mood altering benefits, similar. The trance-like state is one aspect of performing I never want to relinquish. Perhaps I'm an escape artist at heart.

It's not unusual for people like ourselves to possess a heightened sense of awareness. Ayke Agus, the longtime assistant and accompanist for Jascha Heifetz and ultimately his confidante, reported in her book "Heifetz As I Knew Him" of having this dream: I saw Heifetz in a beautiful blue suit, standing afar; I was sitting in the same room with him, dressed in a long gown and looking at him. He came closer and closer, and when he got to me he gave me a big hug and said,"I will be gone for a while, but I'll return to get you. Wait for me." I could still feel the warmth of his hug when the telephone rang. His private night nurse called me before she called anyone else, with the news that Jascha Heifetz had passed away."

One of the most fascinating psychic stories was the life of Rosemary Brown, a spiritualist who claimed dead composers, most notably Franz Liszt, dictated new works for her to share with the world. Brown insisted that each composer had his own way of dictating to her. Liszt controlled her hands at the keyboard, Schubert sang to her, and Chopin pushed her fingers onto the keys. Mrs. Brown maintained that she had never had musical training except for a few years of piano lessons, yet she produced music and works of art that stumped the experts.

Lucky are those who can transcend the physical world, commune with dead souls, and focus on a moment of bliss.
The Ghost Pianist by Morgana88

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