I came to him today with a Chopin waltz, Debussy prelude, and Bach preludium. His office is a complete disarray of papers, scores, music stands, and Styrofoam coke cups that he drinks water out of. Five minutes after I walked in the door, he became suddenly very self-conscious of the cups and began throwing them into the overflowing wastebasket, saying that he had no idea how there got to be so many. I told him not to worry about it; that way he can keep track of how much water he's drinking.
I told him I had learned the waltz, and the preludiums hands separately. Mistake one. Despite all my previous piano experience, he said it is really best to always practice both parts together unless there is a particularly difficult part, and once you work it out, both parts go right back together. Then I told him that when I practiced the waltz, I left out the ornamentations at first. Mistake two. Never leave out the ornamentations. It just makes learning them later more difficult. I then decided to just come clean and tell him that my left hand ornamentations have always been horrible, and I never worked them out correctly.
This confession opened the door to my first lesson in the Russian technique. It was a whole new world of allowing gravity and motion to do all the work for you, rather than actually playing the keys with your fingers. In the smallest motion of the wrist, he played crystal clear runs and fugue passages with no effort whatsoever. It is all about allowing the science of motion to move through your hand to play the notes, rather than forcing them out yourself. What a novel idea!
For the better part of the lesson, I sat at the piano and dropped my hand onto the keys. I could only leaving one finger hanging on, as if I had fallen off a cliff and caught myself. The idea was relaxation, and letting gravity do the work. Easier said than done. After doing this exercise twice, I realized how much tension I carry in my hand, and how much I try to control it's movement. I did this over and over as he intensely watched my hand from his wooden rocking chair beside me. "One more time...that's better...do it again...one more time...now with number three...relax...your hand will do it...oh, no...one more time...enjoy the free fall..." I started realizing how much work I have made for myself all this time, when all I had to do was let it happen. He said, "Playing the piano is like a series of magic tricks. We wave our hands over the keys and music happens."
I just have to get this 'waving' motion down. Without thinking about it. Right.