The black and white ebonies and ivories are no mystery to me. I know them like I know my mother and father—rather complex creatures with intricate systems I cannot begin to understand, yet can read and respect. For instance, I can tackle a C-minor scale up and down the piano with the same amount of celerity that I can read my mother’s body language. However, the process of delivering such a scale first requires composure and concentration.
I close my eyes and inhale deeply, before a waltz between the Steinway and I begins. My hands in position, I ask the question: “May I have this dance?” There is a silent, but knowing reply. My fingers, feet, and mind work in tandem, as my feet partake in their own dance with the pedal; telling it how and when to end. Meanwhile, my fingers partner with most of the eighty-eight keys, dipping and twirling as my mind tells them exactly what to do and when.
The most important thing I ever learned about piano was that I could use it to evoke feelings—feelings so spellbinding and provocative, that they inflamed the emotions of the listener until all of his past stresses, failures, thoughts, and memories burst. Evoking feeling, however, is half self-involvement and half knowledge.
By studying English, for instance, students can infer that “sonorous” is comparable to cavernous; deep; resonant. Thus, a “sonorous chord” is compatible with the pedal. It rings within the depths of the piano and room, leaving an impressionable sound. Contrarily, “dissonant chords,” those with tension and bite, occasionally flit through the piano, making the use of a pedal unnecessary.
Pivotal teaching in pedal use similarly involves emphasis on phrasing and accentuation, which both can shape the mood of a piece. Angry moods are easily translatable if certain repetitious notes and measures are struck with extra force. Tranquil moods involve dainty fluttering across the keys in the upper register. On the other hand, if the pianist merely plays the notes with equal strength and length, keeping steady while manipulating the multitude of keys, notes can transmit a sense of importance.
Now imagine: a secession of chords ring out—soft, loud, soft; soft, loud, soft—until a rapid procession of major scales on the black keys begin. The pianist lightly emphasizes the first note of each scale, merely grazing the rest. With the steady touch and release of the pedal in compliance with the legato strokes, listeners discover an uncontrollable urge to shut heavy eyelids.
From there, imaginations run wild as a series of colors varied in shade correspond to the notes varied in pitch. Colors—from celadon blue to cerulean—become languid memories of late-night strolls on the beach; moonlight casting a glow upon rippled water as toes squish into cooled, moist sand.
Using every ounce of knowledge to intricately weave together a piece that evokes powerful and fantastical memories and images, the player entrances his audience, painting pictures on what once were blank canvasses.
Watching any successful professional pianist will tell you that letting go—losing oneself in the music entirely—is the key element of evocative playing. Then all at once, the juxtaposed idea of playing with reckless care seems unattainable. Why? Because as "reckless" as it seems, it takes a basic understanding of how something works to establish a sense of appreciation for an object as complex as a piano.
Knowing why does not always mean knowing how. Yet “reading” a piano like a book—analyzing and anticipating its ins and outs while simultaneously dreaming to create feeling—this is the stuff of legends.