ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 14 JANUARY 2013
A selection of comments recieved in response the article in the Guardian this Saturday. Link to the original article here: http://gu.com/p/3cqhg
"Righty-ho, now onto the Godowsky studies of the Chopin's etudes.
Firstly very well done. I've been back on the stool for a few years now; I can't help suspecting that there's something about an inherently over competitive nature in attempting to tackle pieces which are outside of our ability and that we'll never be able to do full justice to (as you can probably infer, there's lots that I'm working away at that i'm pretty sure i'm not good enough to play well).
i'm pretty certain that it's not the quickest way to improve either, but it's still an impressive achievement and moreover, a lovely celebration of hobbyism with no aspirations for anything greater.
i'll be getting the book."
"First off, well done for getting the fingers going again. The first Ballade is a bit of beast, especially to pull off in performance, with its mercurial changes in mood and tempi. That what makes it so difficult as a concert piece. But as a bit of advice, now is the time to tackle smaller, more manageable, pieces that can be comprehensively learnt over the course of a few days or weeks. Say, Schubert Impromtus, or some of the faster Chopin Preludes, Debussy Preludes or late Brahms pieces (Op 116-119). They can still bring with them the technical challenges of the Ballade. Better still you start to build more varied repertoire and gain a sense of accomplishment. Good luck, and don't stop playing now."
"I loved this article. I took up the piano again (after a break of 18 years or so) a few weeks before Xmas so that I could accompany my son's school nativity play. I'm not as busy as Alan, but I carved out 30 minutes a day, before work, to practice and I found it so therapeutic (despite being - frankly - scared ****less about playing in front of a bunch of kids and their parents) and am determined to keep it up.
This was small fry compared to Chopin but I am now kicking myself for all those wasted years. Not letting the grass grow under my feet again ...
Must go and buy his book now too ...."
"Wonderful piece that shows something crucial about why art is so important to a meaningful life. At 60 I find playing music (jazz sax - but am about to start the piano again, which I only did for about 9 months 10 years ago) one of the few aspects of life which is immune to disenchantment. And because I practise regularly, age has no effects on my continuous improvement. If the best the detractors can say to Alan is what is said on here, they should examine their own lives a bit more.
And, in case you are wondering, I am totally opposed to political line of the Guardian re the Coalition. But what has that got to do with Alan's brave artistic venture? Is he supposed not to do it because too many people can't afford instruments and tuition? A piece like this is actually politically very effective, because it gives the lie to Gove's Gradgrind-like approach to education by showing what a resource music can be."
It is a wonderful story that I am sympathize with, and that encourage me to do a similar challenge. I gave up my playing the piano at the age of 15, when I was a stupid teenager and crazy for rock music. I still love rock, but I regret later in my life that I stopped the lessons. After over 30 years later I moved to an Australian outback, and resumed the instrument for singers in an amateur singers. This awoke me to play something more interesting as a solo pianist. I have a piece in mind, which happens to be a Chopin. I am now seriously considering following the author's step. Thank you for the uplifting story.
Dear Alan, as a fellow amateur yet seriously passionate pianist I genuinely commend you on reaching your own "pianistic everest" and having the courage to play it in front of public. I have heard the piece played on many occasions in the concert hall and can honestly say that 2 of every 3 attempts have fallen short technically (often) and artistically (through sheer technical exhaustion in some cases!).
Having started the piano from scratch at 31 years of age (though with a reasonable previous musical background) I do however question the artistic merit of what you have achieved as you yourself admit you "sort of play it".
I very early on realized that much of the staple concert repertoire (and by definition the most enjoyable works to play or listen to) are inherently verging from the complex to the technically impossible (for amateurs that is). Given that much of primary works were written by deeply talented pianists/keyboardists Bach, Scarlatti, Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, Liszt, Debussy, Ravel, Rachamaninov etc the compositions certainly did not have the technical or artistic limitations of the non-professional in mind in general.
However the beauty of the baroque/classical/romantic repertoire is that there is still plenty of very worthy repertoire that is played in the concert hall but is suitable for amateurs. I have chosen to focus on playing a "body of work" that while challenging at times technically is not going to result in a second rate production - the more straightforward Chopin nocturnes complemented by some by the lesser known John Field nocturnes, Scarlatti sonatas, Piazolla (I am based currently in Argentina), a Bach French Suite or one by Purcell.
As an experienced piano teacher with a number of returning adult amateurs as pupils I loved this article and found it really inspiring. I have forwarded it to several of my students to inspire them too! After all, if someone with as demanding a job as AR can do this, what excuse can THEY have for not practising!!?
I understand very well why the Chopin 1st Ballade could hold the attention and fascination in this way for an extended period of time. It is such an extraordinarily demanding piece in terms of emotional landscape and depth of vision of the human condition. I think there is a sense in which the notes themselves are the least of the difficulties. There are three separate periods in my life when I have been haunted by, not to say obsessed with this piece - and I was absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to perform it on a couple of occasions some years ago. Not because my performances were comparable with that of great pianists like Pollini and Horovitz and Perahia, but because it felt like a wonderful gift to be able to share my vision of this music with an appreciative audience. It is music that opens people up to the 'big picture' of life, all the right brain intuitive cosmic dimension of life. And this is the most exciting thing to me about amateur pianists working on great music - it combines left brain/right brain experience in a really profound way.
Currently my obsession is with the Goldberg Variations, and I have spent the last six weeks working on them every day. Now there's another challenge for you, Alan!
I congratulate Alan Rusbridger on his hard earned success with the Ballade and feel quite inspired to press on with my own studies.
At 77 I feel that I can still learn much more on the piano although I'm not as advanced as Alan. My own piano story goes back well over 60 years when my mother decided I should have a piano. But since we were a poorish family, she had to go cleaning houses to scrape together the £100 needed for a half way decent upright piano in around 1948 - 49. I was probably a bit to old to become a really good player, assuming I had sufficient talent, but regrettably I spent too much time kicking a ball about, climbing trees and going to the cinema. I've always felt that I let my mother down in this instance. Nevertheless, despite an indifferent teacher I learned a few pieces which I still play today.