Saturday, February 5, 2011

Firetrucks and Pillows

I spent a generous amount of time explaining dynamics to a young lad on Thursday. This involved a brief overview of Italian terms forte and piano, their meaning being strong and quiet. I was engaging, took questions, we tried some warm-ups in both. And when I was finished, he replied simply, "that's not what my teacher at school said."

"Well, how did she describe dynamics?" I asked.

"She said that F stands for Firetruck, you know, really loud, like a siren, and that P stands for Pillow, soft."

"I'm glad that your remember that. Can we try them in your piece?"

But I confess. All the while he was playing Firetruck and Pillow I was wondering why in the world would you give different names to the symbols "F" and "P" like this? They're pretty standard, after all. Perhaps in a classroom setting, you're teaching to the lowest common denominator? Perhaps it was a success because he could tell me about it at a different lesson. I have always liked the fact that our instrument was named a Quiet. It didn't much fill much more than a 10x10 room when it began its life so long ago.

There's a phrase on a bumper sticker that says, "Piano is my Forte". Forte. Strong suit, my strength. I can't go around explaining that Piano is my Firetruck, nor do I wish to ever play it with the sound of a siren.

The other item that often tweaks me, while we're at it, is that piano is not soft, but quiet. It is a term of volume, not of touch, in my opinion. I often correct even the method books who use the term "soft" in their piano descriptions. Perhaps I'm in a persnickety mood as I cross out their word and write in "quiet".

Volume on a piano is a matter of the speed in which the key is depressed. The faster that the hammer hits the string the more forte it will be. Yes, then. If you depress the key softly, as in gently, it will be most likely also quiet. It may also be wimpy. I am constantly striving to play my instrument the most well-voiced quiet I can get. I have heard some pianists master their piano, in both senses of the word. So, I want my students to play quietly, and avoid wimpy.

Thanks for listening to my rant today. I feel better. But ranting is not usually my forte. And now I'll be piano.

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