An Artistic Retrospective

Sometimes clawing my way up the piano learning curve gets tiresome and demoralising. Following my last post, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to perfect small passages in a couple of pieces and I needed a break. I needed to just play some music and feel slightly better about my piano-playing self.

Flicking through my box of sheet music — more of it aspirational than archival — I extracted two pieces from my past: Grieg’s Watchman’s Song and Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1.

I’d learned Watchman’s Song well over a year ago (it can be deduced that it’s not a difficult piece), but I never really nailed down the spooky arpeggios that herald the arrival of the ‘spirits of the night’ in the Intermezzo. They always had a hint of an old man’s arthritis about them: a little slow, a little lumpy, pre-ghostly at best, if the man in question was really old.

So imagine my surprise when my fingers floated up and down these little arpeggios weightlessly, effortlessly. Ghostly. Perhaps the most clear-cut example of improving fine motor control I’ve experienced at the keyboard.

I’d also found the Gymnopédie a little difficult when I last tried it, straight after its simple(r) cousin, the first Gnossienne, and it went back in the box. This time around I didn’t exactly sail through it with ease, but I did enjoy this enormously:

Look at that tiny ‘e’!

This meant that last time I looked at the piece, I couldn’t read beyond the bottom of the bass stave. I chuckled (inwardly), then took a photo, then rubbed it out.

This diversion was a good idea. I enjoyed playing the pieces, especially the Satie which I find mesmerising despite my usual aversion to minimalism. And I incidentally learned that progress is sometimes only perceptible when there is enough time between reference points.