COVIDiaries 3 - Easter Edition


Two singer colleagues asked me to join them to make music in the time of corona, and yesterday we recorded Stabat mater by Pergolesi. We're publishing it on YouTube as an Easter offering. I'd never heard this Stabat mater before we started rehearsing (shocking, I know) and I thought it would be fun. It was. Here's what I learned in the process:

  • When living through a crisis - this pandemic is arguably the biggest one so far in my lifetime - making music together becomes an act of hope, defiance, prayer even. Working on Stabat mater with Johanna and Elli has yet again reminded me of how much I love what I do. (Listen to 'Thank you for the music' by ABBA now and be grateful. Then continue reading.)
  • Stabat mater is an insanely beautiful piece when played by a baroque ensemble.
  • A piano is not a baroque ensemble. It's important to understand all the implications of this - I didn't. I listened to recordings of ensembles, did my best to imitate them, and quickly discovered that things that sound good with a continuo aren't necessarily applicable to piano playing. Steady, heavy pulse? A robot playing slightly too slow. Walking bass all portato? Directionless shit. Trills together with singers? Not great.
  • I understood just how little I had studied baroque - I have played the harpsichord, but pitiably little. I have basically learned enough to know how much out of my depth I am - and knowing this mainly helps in making me aware of how much I'm offending the baroque gods. Whatever I do, it's probably somehow wrong, and who plays baroque music on a piano anyway?
  • When you have to baroque as a pianist, however, you've got to pay attention to staccatos. I always end up using them too much and too sharp everywhere, making everything sound light, bright and cheerful. Sometimes it works, but just as often the line and drama disappear, taking the oomph out of the music.
  • Trills are hard. "Relax," you tell your fingers, "you've known how to do this since you were ten", but your muscles have already frozen, refusing to co-operate.
  • Taping scores is even harder than the trills. This time I copied just some of the pages to avoid page turns, and taped the copies to the score. Well. Not only once but twice I actually managed to tape the upper and lower half of the same paper to different pages. Trying to detach the tape I tore some of the pages and essentially made a huge mess. Finally I managed to tape page 29 next to page 41. I have two masters degrees.
  • Recording is energy-consuming business, so bring food. Bananas are the best.
  • Buy new tights. If you think the old ones won't break when you start manouvering yourself into them, you're very much mistaken. Counting on a small tear not showing in the video? Of course it will. Forgot to check the colour? No worries, surely no-one will notice how weird your orange legs look compared to the deathlike white of your arms.
  • It really is possible to cry so tragically over wrong notes and badly formed phrases that the person who you live with thinks someone has died. (In my defence, I was very tired and hungry, and that's when things get tragic.)
  • Things might not sound as shit as they feel like when you play them. We're professionals, so in the end all the music we make sounds quite alright, even if it's not the greatest performance ever. All the embarrassing mistakes I bumbled through in this particular recording are just mistakes, after all. While they make me cringe, they will not destroy all the pleasure another listener gets from the performance. A messed up trill here, an ugly forte there - turns out I'm just human. Who would've thought.
  • Looking at the video afterwards I realised that I still have the same mannerism I've had for years now - I tend to rotate in a circle, always counter-clockwise, with varying speed throughout a performance. There I was playing, going round and round. A couple of times I managed to pause the movement and sit still for a phrase or two before continuing my rounds, and that felt like a small victory. Baby steps.
  • Concerts are fun. Okay, there was no audience and we didn't actually get paid, but who cares when the piece and the people you work with are awesome. Returning to ABBA I'm saying thank you for the music and wishing you all a happy Easter, while we wait for better times to come.