Let's Tickle the Ivories

By Dubal, David | New Criterion, February 2012 | Go to article overview

Let's Tickle the Ivories


Dubal, David, New Criterion


There is an old proverb that goes "Play the piano daily and stay sane." For me, the main word of this proverb is daily. Playing the piano daily means inevitable accomplishment, and, without a sense of accomplishment, life is an impoverished journey.

Machines have taken us away from our hands. In his last days, Rachmaninoff continually practiced a composition he never performed. One of his last statements was: "Farewell, my dear hands." Today, we are starved for a deep contact with our hands. The poet Edward Dahlberg felt "our hands are already very stupid and morose. What can we do with them? What do we do with them?" Let's get back to our hands--they are craving good work. At one time, the terms "handmade" and "handcrafted" meant a great deal. In schools, the young are no longer taught to write in script. Handwriting provided the first glimpse of individuality. What a thrill to see our beloved's handwriting in a letter. And what of drawing, once an essential form of education? Painting and drawing are no longer common practice. Goethe, sickened by the Babel of words, counseled, "Let us draw, instead of talk."

There is wisdom, so I say, let us play the piano. Non-verbal music reaches into the depths of the unconscious. There is nothing so satisfactory for our hands--physically, sensuously, and artistically--as playing the piano. Nothing compares to the satisfaction of playing a small piece of Bach or Schumann. If you can't play a Bach invention perfectly, or even imperfectly, try to do it, and you will come to agree with me. The path to such an achievement asks for focus, discipline, attention, a delicate sense of touch, musical feeling, and more. Good practicing is meditation without the mantra. When you commune with Bach or Schubert, you can reach the heights of Mount Parnassus, where the atmosphere is ratified.

Almost everyone is musical. Music is an actual bodily need. Another saying goes "If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well," but I disagree. Like Chesterton, I feel that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing even badly. Playing the piano is not something to be graded. Adults should take it up the moment they feel the need to play music. As a matter of course, children should be given lessons without pressure. Playing the piano should be an act without material value. It must be a road of discovery, a trackless territory, and never a means of showing off. The piano won't serve the ego's craving for recognition.

When I was a student, I had an adult who studied with me. The man was gifted in a number of ways. He took his lessons seriously and worked hard. After about two years, when he thought he had mastered a group of compositions, he could not resist showing off. He rented a small hall and a Steinway and invited a large group of friends. I told him that this was a mistake, as he had no idea what kind of super-mastery was needed to play in public. He was a self-absorbed, flamboyant character who thought he could pull it off with his usual flair, as he did with his acting and dancing.

In the green room before the little concert, he was stunned to find his legs and hands shaking beyond control. Still, he went out to face his audience and made a complete fool of himself, flailing in every piece. The next day, he called me angrily, saying that he was quitting; he didn't love the piano, he told me. I told him I thought that was a good idea. I never saw him again. His narcissism excluded the possibility of properly loving music. The piano is not only a severe taskmaster, it asks that you possess character. If you have the temerity to play publicly, you are all alone, and the way you perform and your preparation tells a great deal about who you are. In a clash of wills, the piano will always win. Robert Schumann wrote, "The hearing of masterworks of different epochs will speediest of all cure you of vanity and self-adoration." Playing the piano teaches one much, especially humility. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Let's Tickle the Ivories
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.