Hearing with the eyes…

TUESDAY, January 28, 2020

Pianists are masters of “small magic”…

(I am continuing here from another topic, about Tony Slydini. Click on this to read that topic.)

Almost everything we do is a trick, an illusion, misdirection. It is about the sound we make versus the visual impression we present of how we make that sound. We are not doing tricks. We are not pretending to be what we are not. We instead do exactly what we have to do to get results, but the nature of the piano makes it seem that we are doing things we are not doing. And that we are not doing things we actually are doing – the things we have to do to make it all work.

Seeing with ears and hearing with the eyes…

It’s amusing to think about this, but all of us can be very much affected by what we see as we watch pianists playing. For this reason I always prefer to listen only, to get an idea of what is really happening aurally. I don’t want to see anything until I know that what I am listening to has worth, then I study the visual part for clues about how it is done. But I never make any judgements as to the worth of the playing on the basis of what I see. Never!

What do you see here?

The first guy, Liberace, was a famous showman, and he was loved by millions of who people who knew nothing about piano and piano playing. They loved the flair, the theatrics and the hype. But this is truly horrible playing. So if you are impressed, you are hearing with your eyes. I used to get disgusted as I watched this guy get more attention and more applause than the greatest players in the world because of the way he threw his hands around and pandered to the stupidity of the masses. First of all, every time he lifts his hands way up in the air he is doing something that no serious pianist ever does because it is wasted effort and often causes mistakes.

We never take our hands far away from the keyboard because it is wasted motion and leads to mistakes and sloppy playing. It only impresses people who know nothing at all about music.

And here?

Lang Lang has a ton of physical talent, but he is also a showman who makes one stupid gesture after another and who also panders to the ignorance of the general audience. He is essentially a virtuoso entertainer who puts on a great show. If you know nothing about piano and hear with your eyes, this is incredibly impressive. If you just listen, not so much. Most of all he gets a ton of international attention from people who know almost nothing and often stops people from going one step further and listening to others who are far better musicians. Every time he makes weird gestures, they do nothing. Again, they are to impress people who know nothing about music.

And here?

If you want to see how to play the best way, watch old players…

It’s Granny Argerich again. August 14th, 2019. She had just turned 78 here. Watch her carefully, because at age 78 you can’t do stupid things. You can’t waste energy. You will see nothing impressive in terms of top pianists, except perhaps you will see that it is effortless. Everything important going on is aural. It’s in the sound.

Now we are listening to one of the most astonishing physical talents of the 20th and 21st century, a lady who could and still can do just about everything,but also a lady who is still evolving musically. This performance is beyond belief.

It’s not nearly as impressive looking because there is no show, no theatrics. There is nothing here to impress all the people who know nothing at all about what we do, but if you just listen you soon know that this is the real deal. Martha Argerich is the one making the great music, and she is the one who has been impressing top pianists from the moment she entered the musical scene decades ago. Fortunately the audience knew what they heard, and the applause at the end is completely in line with the performance. They know they heard something beyond belief.

Don’t listen with your eyes…

This whole matter audiences “listening with the eyes” is something serious musicians dread.

Why? Because it means that in order to become showmen, or “show-people”, we have to cater to the ignorance of the masses and “dumb it down” for the people in the audience who know nothing. So remember never to be impressed with what players look like as they play, and don’t ever be impressed by what you look like yourself as you play. Consider only the sound, then learn how to make that sound without hurting your body.

So what is the secret to discovering who plays the best?

Answer: just listen. Don’t watch while you are judging who plays well. Use only your ears, find out what is really going on, then watch later for visual clues about how to make this sound, but never use what you see to judge the importance or the worth of what you are listening to.

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