Last week, my university held a master class by Yeol Eum Son, the silver winner of the 2009 Van Cliburn competition. I played a Chopin Etude, op.10 no.6. She gave me a number of specific suggestions which were very helpful, but there were two general concepts I took from the experience:
1. Posture: keep your chest open. I’ve been told to sit up straight of course, and I’ve even been told not to sit too straight (a common problem among slender pianists, especially female). I’ve also been told to keep my shoulders down and relaxed, which is something I struggle with. Tension in the shoulders, can affect the arms and wrists negatively.
I’ve also accompanied enough vocalists to know that keeping the chest open is extremely important to help with breath support and avoid causing the throat to do the work. But I never realized that pianists should be doing this too. Watching her play, I realized how free and open her chest seemed, and as a result, how relaxed her shoulders and arms were. I can’t quite explain it in words — see it for yourself it the video here:
(Her playing is so beautiful in this video, I could listen to it over and over and never tire of it!)
I am finding it very helpful to think about posture in this way, rather than constantly feeling as if I must hold my back, shoulders, and arms in a certain manner.
2. Keep your fingers always ready for the next chord as you play. Watching her demonstrate some passages from my Chopin Etude, I admired the way her fingers smoothly moved between chords — I could actually see her fingers anticipate the shape and feel of the next chord. I like this idea a lot! Looking/thinking ahead is obviously helpful when sight-reading and playing by memory — but how often do I feel the chords in advance?
And as if this wasn’t enough, her chords were incredibly legato-sounding! It’s easy to let successions of chords to become percussive-sounding. But hers were gorgeous, largely, I believe, because her fingers were always ready over the correct keys before she needed to play them.
Masterclasses can be so inspiring! What have you inspiration have you gained from another pianist lately?