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#1679185 - 05/17/11 07:14 AM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: Batuhan]  
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Do we go to concerts to watch robots? If performers' facial or body movements annoy people, wouldn't it be better to listen to a faceless CD at home?

The Berliner Philharmoniker is probably the world's most overtly demonstrative orchestra (I exclude occasions when the Simon Bolivar Orchestra do their encores of course) - the way the violinists sway and gyrate in time with each other, the way the woodwind wiggle their instruments...and they're also probably the world's greatest orchestra. Do they rehearse their body movements before concerts?

I've no problem with Lang Lang's facial expressions or his exuberant gestures. He conveys joy in his music-making, which seems to me entirely appropriate and apposite. Grimaces from the likes of Brendel disturb me far more - playing a sublime phrase with a painful expression is somewhat off-putting grin. To assume that pianists rehearse their facial expressions in front of the mirror like they practise their pieces is to give them more self-awareness than they're due and/or afford them the same perspective that pop performers rehearse for their stage antics.

When I was younger, I used to be very self-conscious when I play in front of someone other than my teacher or family, and try to avoid any facial expressions of any sort. These days, I don't give a dam* what people think of my facial expressions or my arm gestures. And from the video that a friend did while I was playing piano on holiday, I'd avoid going to any of my own live performances.... grin


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
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#1679281 - 05/17/11 10:05 AM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: bennevis]  
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Originally Posted by bennevis
Do we go to concerts to watch robots? If performers' facial or body movements annoy people, wouldn't it be better to listen to a faceless CD at home?...


Yeh, CD's are the only way I listen to Hewitt.

#1679283 - 05/17/11 10:07 AM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: Carey]  
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Originally Posted by carey
Originally Posted by pianoman76
[
Let's say a musician's facial expressions and body contortions *do* seem over the top, but it's all really subconscious for them. Do you (and others here) think they should go out of their way to break themselves of the habit?


This topic has been discussed TO DEATH in these forums. But to address your statement above, if its a "subconscious" thing (i.e., Andre Watts) then I really don't have a problem with it. When it is done intentionally (i.e., Lang Lang)...then it bothers me. Just my personal opinion, of course.


Spot on!

#1679293 - 05/17/11 10:21 AM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: polyphasicpianist]  
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Originally Posted by polyphasicpianist
Originally Posted by pianoman76

Let's say a musician's facial expressions and body contortions *do* seem over the top, but it's all really subconscious for them. Do you (and others here) think they should go out of their way to break themselves of the habit?


The expressions are NOT subconscious. When Lang Lang acts like Lang Lang, or Angela Hewitt acts like Angela Hewitt, ect., they KNOW they are doing it. In fact, I would bet money they make an effort to practice it that way.


For very detailed complex work, it's hard to focus on more than one thing at a time.

Think of it: how many performers are accomplished at not merely very good but stupendous multitask performance, (be it a combination of playing singing, dancing &/or acting)? I can only think of Callas and Astaire.

Hewitt and Lang focus on the entire "gestalt of the act" which detracts and diffuses the purity of the piece at hand. The result of their multitasking performances can be "ligneous" music.

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#1679295 - 05/17/11 10:25 AM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: bennevis]  
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Originally Posted by bennevis
To assume that pianists rehearse their facial expressions in front of the mirror like they practise their pieces is to give them more self-awareness than they're due and/or afford them the same perspective that pop performers rehearse for their stage antics.


Well, look in the beginning of this masterclass video by Maria Joao Pires and she is clearly telling the student to practice making body gestures. He looks completely uncomfortable with her suggestion and realizes how ridiculous he looks.


Last edited by boo1234; 05/17/11 10:26 AM.
#1679298 - 05/17/11 10:31 AM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: Batuhan]  
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You know what, by doing that stuff you are only adding expression....... to your face, not the music. Instead of pouring it on the keyboard, it's going to your face. Would you rather look expressive or sound expressive?



"The eyes can mislead, the smile can lie, but the shoes always tell the truth."
#1679300 - 05/17/11 10:32 AM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: Batuhan]  
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Btw, that masterclass video is ridiculous - seriously??????



"The eyes can mislead, the smile can lie, but the shoes always tell the truth."
#1679312 - 05/17/11 10:48 AM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: Batuhan]  
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I've attended lots of masterclasses over the years and seen many more on TV and DVD, but this is the first time I've seen anyone tell a student to put on 'expression' via gestures. My opinion of Pires has sunk..................


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
#1679326 - 05/17/11 11:14 AM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: Batuhan]  
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That video is embarrassing. The woman is a lunatic, I don't care how well she plays.

#1679347 - 05/17/11 11:49 AM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: Batuhan]  
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I've heard much more ridiculous things from teachers in masterclasses lol.

#1679362 - 05/17/11 12:35 PM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: Batuhan]  
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Pires performs with very minimal gestures and facial expressions in concert. I think the 30 seconds in that video that some disapprove of could be just as easily seen as her attempt to convey something about the music to the student vs. a suggestion to perform with certain movements/expressions.

I think there are occasions when some consciously added movement can add something to the performance. I remember Fialkowska explaining this to a student about the performance of the opening two chords of the Chopin b minor Scherzo.

For me, the ideal amount of facial expressivity would be someone like Haochen Zhang or Blechacz. When I can tell a pianist is completely in love with the music, for me this adds something to the performance. I can, however, understand that some very good pianists might feel that even Zhang's expressions are too much or detract from his ability to play in the best way.

Pires playing Chopin Nocturne in F
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnCC0dMNUvE

Zhang plays Liszt Spanish Rhapsody
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkW1HKWpZfM

Blechacz Chopin Competition winner's recital
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L28aSoUfp6Q


Last edited by pianoloverus; 05/17/11 01:43 PM.
#1679389 - 05/17/11 01:23 PM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: Batuhan]  
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Pires seems like a very "artistic" pianist, saying things like "all the world is mine" (cf. "had we but world enough and time"), and "your soul is opening to something unknown." It's understandable how some more cerebral players might find that approach...just plain icky.

Sometimes a musician can be so encapsulated in his or her habits, or approach, that it might take something like actual physical motion (as she is telling the blond guy to move his head a certain way), to make the point. Words or demonstration might not make a dent. And like she is telling the second girl in this clip, you have to exaggerate something, or feel like you are exaggerating, just to make a slight difference in the actual performance-- you will be extremely conscious of making even a slight change, but you need to consciously overdo it to make a change noticeable to others. I totally understand where Pires is coming from. That blond guy might feel ridiculous, but he might get something he can tap into later, when he runs into a wall with trying to understand or interpret a piece.

#1679396 - 05/17/11 01:33 PM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: debrucey]  
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Originally Posted by debrucey
Where can I find that Tolstoy quote exactly?


I either read it in War and Peace or Anna Karenina, I can't remember which (which is why I paraphrased). I know that really doesn't narrow it down much. But my gut tells me that it was War and Peace. I think it may have been in reference to Prince Andre's sister's harpsichord playing. I am really not sure, I read both books about 2 years ago. It wasn't in The Kreutzer Sonata, which seems like the obvious place for such a quote, I know this because I have never read that story but am aware of it, so it seems impossible that I recollected it from there.


#1679406 - 05/17/11 01:45 PM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: Batuhan]  
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I find those Pires masterclass videos hard to watch. Her teaching method seems to involve intimidating and bullying her students.

#1679447 - 05/17/11 02:43 PM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: boo1234]  
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Originally Posted by boo1234
Originally Posted by bennevis
To assume that pianists rehearse their facial expressions in front of the mirror like they practise their pieces is to give them more self-awareness than they're due and/or afford them the same perspective that pop performers rehearse for their stage antics.


Well, look in the beginning of this masterclass video by Maria Joao Pires and she is clearly telling the student to practice making body gestures. He looks completely uncomfortable with her suggestion and realizes how ridiculous he looks.



This woman is sick has psychological problems. But she is good Chopin interpreter no doubt.

Last edited by Batuhan; 05/17/11 02:44 PM.

Sorry for my English, I know it sucks, but I'm trying to improve.

#1679460 - 05/17/11 03:04 PM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: Amant]  
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Originally Posted by Amant
Originally Posted by polyphasicpianist
Originally Posted by pianoman76

Let's say a musician's facial expressions and body contortions *do* seem over the top, but it's all really subconscious for them. Do you (and others here) think they should go out of their way to break themselves of the habit?


The expressions are NOT subconscious. When Lang Lang acts like Lang Lang, or Angela Hewitt acts like Angela Hewitt, ect., they KNOW they are doing it. In fact, I would bet money they make an effort to practice it that way.


For very detailed complex work, it's hard to focus on more than one thing at a time.

Think of it: how many performers are accomplished at not merely very good but stupendous multitask performance, (be it a combination of playing singing, dancing &/or acting)? I can only think of Callas and Astaire.

Hewitt and Lang focus on the entire "gestalt of the act" which detracts and diffuses the purity of the piece at hand. The result of their multitasking performances can be "ligneous" music.


I don't think they are focusing on their gestures, per se. Their movements and facial expressions have been worked into the performance and are on "auto-pilot" (i.e. procedural memory) just as much as any fast intricate passage with the fingers is. It has all been chunked by the brain into one behavioural event. They may become aware of their movements at various points in the performance but it is not as if they need to focus on them, meaning multi-tasking does not become a issue.

As an example, watch Jonathan Biss in this masterclass, when Barrenboim gets him to play excerpts you can clearly see by their instantaneous nature that his gestures have been practiced into the work as much as the correct notes and rhythm:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHgfuf-Nn-Q&feature=related

These types of performers could have just as easily practised not-gesturing-weirdly and played the piece equally as well (or bad as the case may be). But they know that it is simpler to look profound than sound profound so they practice in such a way as to deceive their audience into believing that their playing is so good that they have channelled some deep vat of emotional ecstasy.

#1679468 - 05/17/11 03:22 PM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: polyphasicpianist]  
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Originally Posted by polyphasicpianist
As an example, watch Jonathan Biss in this masterclass, when Barrenboim gets him to play excerpts you can clearly see by their instantaneous nature that his gestures have been practiced into the work as much as the correct notes and rhythm:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHgfuf-Nn-Q&feature=related

These types of performers could have just as easily practised not-gesturing-weirdly and played the piece equally as well (or bad as the case may be). But they know that it is simpler to look profound than sound profound so they practice in such a way as to deceive their audience into believing that their playing is so good that they have channelled some deep vat of emotional ecstasy.
I think all the above is just opinion and many, including me, would disagree. In the very first clip Bliss is playing the climax of one of the greatest sonatas and I don't find his movements inappropriate or an interference. I certainly don't think he planned them so he could look profound and fool the audience.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 05/17/11 03:40 PM.
#1679470 - 05/17/11 03:23 PM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: Batuhan]  
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Sometimes my teacher tells me I need to act more. She says if you act like you are playing loud it will sound louder. Also, one time another pianist at my school was playing Mozart's variations on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in studio class and she wasn't moving or making any faces, and my teacher told her that she looked bored and not into it and that made the music sound boring. She told her to look up Lang Lang and do about a third of what he does. She has also told me the same thing. I'm not sure if I buy it. I only move as much as necessary to make the sounds I want, isn't that enough?

Speaking of Mozart, he was on the opposite end of the debate from my teacher I believe. He said, "I do not make grimaces and yet play with such expression..." and he made fun of people who "flop about."

Last edited by WinsomeAllegretto; 05/17/11 03:24 PM.
#1679478 - 05/17/11 03:35 PM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: WinsomeAllegretto]  
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I had a teacher who told me that all of the expression should go into the music. Sometimes, she still advised me to ham it up for certain sections to add to the performance. For example, if you're playing a really dramatic and unexpected chord progression, it would totally kill the mood if you slowly and leisurely prepared for it, no matter what you sound like. At the end of a really beautiful lyrical section, you need to kind of freeze and let the music sink in rather than jerking your hands away and onto a new phrase.

#1679486 - 05/17/11 03:58 PM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: pianoloverus]  
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I think all the above is just opinion and many, including me, would disagree. In the very first clip Bliss is playing the climax of one of the greatest sonatas and I don't find his movements inappropriate or an interference. I certainly don't think he planned them so he could look profound and fool the audience.


Sorry, I should have been more clear. I didn't mean to suggest they were planned in a choreographed and sinister sense. What I meant to convey was that these performers know these types of gestures can get a positive reaction out of a audience and they will actively try to incorporate them into pieces for this vary reason, this aspect may be subconcious. In all likelihood they have been reinforced for this behaviour, they have seen others reinforced for this behaviour, and therefore quite naturally engage in this behaviour for those vary reasons. I should have been more clear and said "they know, intuitively (via mechanisms of operant conditioning), that it is simpler to look profound than sound profound." The deception I referred to lies in the fact that they are, weather they realize it or not, using their ostentatious movements as a potential mask of the music.

#1679487 - 05/17/11 04:00 PM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: WinsomeAllegretto]  
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Originally Posted by WinsomeAllegretto
Sometimes my teacher tells me I need to act more. She says if you act like you are playing loud it will sound louder. Also, one time another pianist at my school was playing Mozart's variations on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in studio class and she wasn't moving or making any faces, and my teacher told her that she looked bored and not into it and that made the music sound boring. She told her to look up Lang Lang and do about a third of what he does. She has also told me the same thing. I'm not sure if I buy it. I only move as much as necessary to make the sounds I want, isn't that enough?



Yes, I believe that that is enough. No, I do not recommend watching (or even listening, haha) to Lang Lang. Or even watching great pianists like Angela Hewitt and Mitsiku Uchida JUST for "advice" on moving around. I sort of get where your teacher is coming from, but that inherently has nothing (in my opinion) of moving around or other external features, but your inner love and connection to the music, which is in my opinion of MUCH greater importance.

If moving around were important, Horowitz and Rubinstein would have been bad artists would they?

Unless there is a problem with hand position/posture/the like, could she not instead instruct you based off of just what she hears? My teacher walks across the room, often looks down and closes his eyes, and focuses really hard on things like sound, tone, phrasing, details, and yet at the same time, the overall big picture. Of course, our teachers are different people and I don't think all teachers should teach the same... But do you see what I'm getting at?

Finally, this worries me:

Originally Posted by WinsomeAllegretto
Sometimes my teacher tells me I need to act more. She says if you act like you are playing loud it will sound louder.


I feel that it is more accurate to say that if you can HEAR a louder/more powerful sound then you can produce a louder/more powerful sound. After all, you need to know in your mind the sound you want to produce, not what you look like when you do it. And about acting, I ask "Why act? Why not be real? Why not be sincere? Why not squeeze it from the bottom of your heart?" All of this of course within careful consideration of the score.

Last edited by Orange Soda King; 05/17/11 04:09 PM.
#1679489 - 05/17/11 04:08 PM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: Pogorelich.]  
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Originally Posted by Pogorelich.
You know what, by doing that stuff you are only adding expression....... to your face, not the music. Instead of pouring it on the keyboard, it's going to your face. Would you rather look expressive or sound expressive?


Well said & in full agreement.

#1679491 - 05/17/11 04:14 PM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: WinsomeAllegretto]  
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Originally Posted by WinsomeAllegretto
Sometimes my teacher tells me I need to act more.... She told her to look up Lang Lang and do about a third of what he does.
Speaking of Mozart, he was on the opposite end of the debate from my teacher I believe. He said, "I do not make grimaces and yet play with such expression..." and he made fun of people who "flop about."


Get rid of your present teacher post haste, and get one steeped in the Mozart tradition.

#1679492 - 05/17/11 04:14 PM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: Orange Soda King]  
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Originally Posted by Orange Soda King
Originally Posted by WinsomeAllegretto
Sometimes my teacher tells me I need to act more. She says if you act like you are playing loud it will sound louder. Also, one time another pianist at my school was playing Mozart's variations on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in studio class and she wasn't moving or making any faces, and my teacher told her that she looked bored and not into it and that made the music sound boring. She told her to look up Lang Lang and do about a third of what he does. She has also told me the same thing. I'm not sure if I buy it. I only move as much as necessary to make the sounds I want, isn't that enough?



Yes, I believe that that is enough. No, I do not recommend watching (or even listening, haha) to Lang Lang. Or even watching great pianists like Angela Hewitt and Mitsiku Uchida JUST for "advice" on moving around. I sort of get where your teacher is coming from, but that inherently has nothing (in my opinion) of moving around or other external features, but your inner love and connection to the music, which is in my opinion of MUCH greater importance.

If moving around were important, Horowitz and Rubinstein would have been bad artists would they?

Unless there is a problem with hand position/posture/the like, could she not instead instruct you based off of just what she hears? My teacher walks across the room, often looks down and closes his eyes, and focuses really hard on things like sound, tone, phrasing, details, and yet at the same time, the overall big picture. Of course, our teachers are different people and I don't think all teachers should teach the same... But do you see what I'm getting at?


I agree - I wouldn't recommend imitating Lang Lang. When I showed my friend a video of Lang Lang, she laughed.

Sometimes when my teacher tells me to act more or use more movements I can see where it does help the sound (such as using more body weight to play louder), but a lot of times I think she just says it for the sake of "acting" for the audience. I think a recital/concert should be about the sound of the music, not necessarily about ME (I'm not fond of people staring at me haha), but I can sort of see the other side too...I guess acting out what you are feeling can communicate to the audience that you care about what you are doing, and visuals can add to the experience. But I don't see the good of it enough to actually put it into practice.

#1679494 - 05/17/11 04:18 PM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: pianoloverus]  
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
...
I think there are occasions when some consciously added movement can add something to the performance. ...


Needless motion is inefficient, wastes the body's stores of energy, and detracts from focused brain function.

#1679497 - 05/17/11 04:21 PM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: WinsomeAllegretto]  
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Originally Posted by WinsomeAllegretto
... Sometimes when my teacher tells me to act more ...


Acting comes from the head, feeling comes from the heart.

#1679503 - 05/17/11 04:32 PM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: Amant]  
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Originally Posted by Amant
Originally Posted by Pogorelich.
You know what, by doing that stuff you are only adding expression....... to your face, not the music. Instead of pouring it on the keyboard, it's going to your face. Would you rather look expressive or sound expressive?


Well said & in full agreement.
I don't think it'a choice of one or the other. There's quite a range of movement/facial expression among the great pianists. One thing that makes this discussion difficult is one person's idea of a lot of movement can be another person's idea of minimal movement.

I do think that only a small number of great pianists did what I would call a lot of extra movement/facial expressions. But I also think that many would consider pianists like Serkin, Brendel, and Uchida to be great pianists.

#1679510 - 05/17/11 04:40 PM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: Amant]  
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Originally Posted by Amant
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
...
I think there are occasions when some consciously added movement can add something to the performance. ...


Needles wasted motion is inefficient, wastes the body's stores of energy, and detracts from focused brain function.
The example I gave was for two chords of the Chopin Scherzo. Fialkowska, who I think is a terrific pianist, said something like the opening two chords were so startling, fierce, brutal, demonic, etc. that just playing them ff wasn't quite enough to express this to the audience. For her this was one special spot that needed something extra. She was not advocating doing this often, and two chords is not going to cause any of the problems you mentioned.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 05/17/11 04:45 PM.
#1679542 - 05/17/11 05:39 PM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: Batuhan]  
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#1679562 - 05/17/11 05:59 PM Re: Facial Expressions While Playing. [Re: Batuhan]  
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Sometimes your facial/body expressions can translate into sound. I have heard that smiling when you're talking on the phone makes you sound more happy. It might not be that pianists are employing these movements to impress the audience, but that it genuinely helps them put more expression into the music.

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