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Piano

TERESA SAYS RELAX

Lack of talent and ill-discipline aside, the most significant challenge I face at the piano is my inability to relax. When faced with technically difficult sections, I often find my fine motor control consumed by creeping tension as I descend into the abyss of frustration, jabbing and clawing at the keys as I go, like a puppet operated by a demented gerbil.

Sometimes late at night, when I’m weary and feeble, the tension subsides and my playing improves markedly. Although there is another way to explain this notable improvement — I’m still awake because I’ve been drinking and I have ‘beer ears’, a sensory sibling of beer goggles but with less regret and no chance of untreatable gonorrhea.

This little anecdote, written by Ethel Leglnska about Teresa Carreño, is from Charles Cooke’s mostly excellent Playing the Piano for Pleasure:

“Sometimes, if carrying something in her hand, she will inadvertently let it drop without realizing it, from sheer force of the habit of relaxation.”

For regular humans who don’t make their living from the piano, I think that’s probably taking relaxation a little too far: there’s almost certainly a sweet spot somewhere between my rigid claw hands and Teresa’s flaccid-herring grip, a point where the piano sounds acceptable and the crockery remains intact.

Of course, the tension doesn’t end at my hands, it also spreads up my arms, across my shoulders, down my back; I don’t really know where it ends, perhaps only where I do.

For the remainder of this annus tedious that is 2019, I’m going to make a concerted effort to relax, by whatever means I can discover. It would probably be a good idea to start with some domestic rearrangement. In the words of the magnificent Teresa herself “one can never marry too late or divorce too soon.”