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Chapter Eight


Expressiveness is in the mind of the beholder.

The tools of expressiveness in piano playing are:

Dynamics: loud, soft, or getting louder or softer, which in music we call

crescendo or diminuendo- dynamic inflection.
Time: fast and slow (tempo); or getting faster or slower; or lingering; or sim-
ply playing out of time and freely; or playing strictly in time with an em-
phasis upon accurate presentation of meter and pattern.
BALANCE or VOICING: when two or more simultaneously occurring sounds
are playing, the degree to which one of the sounds is “highlighted” or
stands out compared to the others.

There is also a “visual” expressiveness in piano playing, what I like to de-

Copyright © 2009. Hamilton Books. All rights reserved.

scribe as the “theatrics” of performance. Some pianists sit quietly with little
or no body movement; others prefer to rock and roll, fling their hands, and in-
dulge in various facial grimaces and even grunts to convey their reaction to
what they are doing. With the increasing prominence of visual images of pi-
ano performances, “theatre” is becoming an important component of expres-
siveness, the performer’s visual cue to how the listener might respond.
EXPRESSIVENESS is a consequence of both intuition and modeling. Most
persons who begin the process of translating musical notation to sound im-
mediately begin to arrange the sounds in some order that satisfies their idea
of musical expressiveness, however simple it might be. Clearly, some begin-
ning pianists are more creative, intuitive, aggressive, or adept at doing this. I
believe this is one of the qualities we describe as TALENT, that is, the ability
to imitate persuasively, intuitively. But despite intuition or talent and however

Hersh, Alan. A Pianist's Dictionary : Reflections on a Life, Hamilton Books, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central,
Created from ntuatw on 2018-10-10 21:04:11.
Expressiveness 23

limited in effect, it is not possible to play the piano without attempting some
kind of expressiveness.
I would describe MODELING as the attempt to imitate a performance that
the pianist finds expressive. The model might be a teacher, a recording, or a
live performance. The model need not be only the piece being studied or even
in a familiar style. Rather, we learn general modes of expressiveness from all
kinds of music. Our experience and our personal notions of expressiveness
are a kind of pick and choose from the effects we’ve heard and want to re-
Dynamic, Time, Voicing - the possibilities in a piece of music are almost
endless and give us the opportunity to discover what is creative in our own
psyches. While there are expressive conventions associated with various
styles, with composers, and even with specific pieces of music, one of the im-
mense satisfactions of playing the piano is to explore one’s personal ideas,
even as one develops more sophisticated tactics and concepts. Expressiveness
is never static in a pianist but grows with experience, perspective, and per-
sonality. Our ideas of expressiveness change over the years, and one of the
unexpected pleasures of growing older with the instrument and its music is
the subtle nuance that one begins to understand as “expressiveness” in piano
However, one unfortunate consequence of strongly held beliefs about ex-
pressiveness is the varying degrees of intolerance for another pianist’s play-
ing that we perceive as lacking in our expressive concepts or sophistication.
This intolerance seems to increase with age and perhaps helps explain why so
many senior piano teachers are so crotchety and opinionated: they grow ex-
asperated at not hearing the expressive playing they anticipate and know to
be correct.
Perhaps older teachers should only have older students.
Copyright © 2009. Hamilton Books. All rights reserved.

Hersh, Alan. A Pianist's Dictionary : Reflections on a Life, Hamilton Books, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central,
Created from ntuatw on 2018-10-10 21:04:11.