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How much do you "emote" when you play? #2915001 11/22/19 01:17 PM
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We're all aware of many professional pianists' tendencies to bring their interpretations not just into the music, but also into their facial expressions and body movements. There are a range of opinions on this, but personally I find it somewhat distracting and try to keep these quirks out of my own playing as much as possible. Sometimes though I'll close my eyes if there's an especially serene moment that I'm playing through (and it's easy enough that I don't risk making easy blunders without my full attention on the keys!)

Do you guys "emote" when you play?

Last edited by rach3master; 11/22/19 01:17 PM.

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Re: How much do you "emote" when you play? [Re: rach3master] #2915038 11/22/19 02:17 PM
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Nope.

Re: How much do you "emote" when you play? [Re: rach3master] #2915044 11/22/19 02:24 PM
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Very subtle facial changes.. no eyes getting guidance from the ceiling and no huge hand gestures. I, too, will occasionally close my eyes.


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
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Re: How much do you "emote" when you play? [Re: dogperson] #2915053 11/22/19 02:33 PM
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Originally Posted by dogperson
Very subtle facial changes.. no eyes getting guidance from the ceiling and no huge hand gestures. I, too, will occasionally close my eyes.


I tried looking at the ceiling during a lesson and was promptly told: “There is nothing up there!” Point taken. When I stare too long at the music, I get told: “There is nothing new there, stop looking at the music!” When I was bobbing around like one of the crazy bobbing bird toys, I was told to cut it out and not show how difficult it was to play. When I was waving my hands over the keyboard, I was told that there was no time to do that! For all of this advice, I am grateful to my teacher.

Last edited by LarryK; 11/22/19 02:33 PM.

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Re: How much do you "emote" when you play? [Re: LarryK] #2915056 11/22/19 02:41 PM
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Originally Posted by LarryK
I tried looking at the ceiling during a lesson and was promptly told: “There is nothing up there!” Point taken. When I stare too long at the music, I get told: “There is nothing new there, stop looking at the music!” When I was bobbing around like one of the crazy bobbing bird toys, I was told to cut it out and not show how difficult it was to play. When I was waving my hands over the keyboard, I was told that there was no time to do that!

Your teacher cracks me up! 🤣


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Re: How much do you "emote" when you play? [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2915061 11/22/19 02:52 PM
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Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop
Originally Posted by LarryK
I tried looking at the ceiling during a lesson and was promptly told: “There is nothing up there!” Point taken. When I stare too long at the music, I get told: “There is nothing new there, stop looking at the music!” When I was bobbing around like one of the crazy bobbing bird toys, I was told to cut it out and not show how difficult it was to play. When I was waving my hands over the keyboard, I was told that there was no time to do that!

Your teacher cracks me up! 🤣


She is wonderful, I feel lucky to have found her. I pay for honesty, and I get it.

Regarding my drunken bobbing around, she made the point that by doing that, I cut off my peripheral vision when my head is close to the keyboard, making it harder to play. That makes a lot of sense to me.


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Re: How much do you "emote" when you play? [Re: rach3master] #2915064 11/22/19 02:56 PM
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When I don't watch myself, I do. But that's usually when I also start to slump and raise my shoulders and do all sorts of things that aren't good for my injured joints, so I try to "sit straight, dammit!" myself in my head every so often smile


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Re: How much do you "emote" when you play? [Re: Sibylle] #2915077 11/22/19 03:22 PM
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Originally Posted by Sibylle
When I don't watch myself, I do. But that's usually when I also start to slump and raise my shoulders and do all sorts of things that aren't good for my injured joints, so I try to "sit straight, dammit!" myself in my head every so often smile


Ah, yes, I forgot that one. In the middle of playing a piece, my teacher came over and pushed my shoulders down. Now, I try to remember to keep my shoulders down.


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Re: How much do you "emote" when you play? [Re: rach3master] #2915080 11/22/19 03:25 PM
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Not much. Oh, I "feel" the music, but I am too busy for superfluous motions.

People love or hate that, and sometimes I feel it gets held against pianists who don't emote, especially with YouTube comments ("all technique and no soul," blah, blah, blah). Mostly the people commenting aren't really listening.

One of the best pianists I have ever known was something of a child prodigy. This person sways in circles while playing to the point that said person's left foot comes off the floor. I guess no teacher ever said, "Don't do that!", out of fear of messing up a star student. 😆

You do have to be carefull about overly expressive playing (musically) when slow practicing, because it doesn't always speed up well--it can hinder developing speed.

I don't really care if people do emote, dress well or poorly, are attractive or not, providing they play well and vibrantly. Just don't sway in circles that are too large. laugh


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Re: How much do you "emote" when you play? [Re: LarryK] #2915082 11/22/19 03:42 PM
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Originally Posted by LarryK


I tried looking at the ceiling during a lesson and was promptly told: “There is nothing up there!” Point taken.

According to Rubinstein, there are flies on the ceiling that some pianists see. Whether he meant auditory hallucinations or real flies (and a flies' nest - OK, an entomologist will say that flies don't make nests, but I beg to disagree: why else would flies fly on the ceiling?) on some ceilings which strut themselves for select pianists, he didn't elaborate.

Be that as it may, I long ago lost my studied poker-faced impassiveness that I perfected as a kid to hide my self-consciousness when playing in front of others, including my teachers. These days, when I perform, I let myself go. I'm far too old to worry about what people think of my facial expressions (frowning when the composer demands more than he should, scowling when he's really gone far too far and should be stopped forthwith, smiling when things are easy; and everything in between) or my arm or body movements, or my occasional stare at a, er, wasp on the wall in front of me as I imagine it to be the reincarnation of the composer whose music I'm flaying, er, I mean, playing.


"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."
Re: How much do you "emote" when you play? [Re: rach3master] #2915093 11/22/19 04:03 PM
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Yes, all over the place during improvisation but not so much when playing pieces. I got so excited once I broke a leg off the seat and ended up on the floor. I don't stand up, pull faces and wrestle with the instrument like Jarrett though, and I'm not sure it is emotional, probably just unconscious habit. I wasn't even aware how much I did it until I was testing my wife's camera. Talk about ursine groping. It's why I never post videos, I look like a spavined polar bear.


"We shall always love the music of the masters, but they are all dead and now it's our turn." - Llewelyn Jones, my piano teacher
Re: How much do you "emote" when you play? [Re: rach3master] #2915094 11/22/19 04:06 PM
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Somewhere in between LL and Heifetz.

Re: How much do you "emote" when you play? [Re: rach3master] #2915109 11/22/19 04:28 PM
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Nothing too excessive but still try to make the hands look less mechanical. When it comes to facial expression, watching Yo-Yo Ma perform is always an experience. Just before he starts playing a note, you can see his facial expression changes from a common man on the street to a someone thinking deeply with his eyes half shut.

Re: How much do you "emote" when you play? [Re: rach3master] #2915117 11/22/19 04:53 PM
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Hello all,
This is my first post. I have seen discussions on this subject on other forums and You Tube where the comments are not favorable to pianists who emote, and just have to finally ask this question. Could someone explain to me why is it ok when a person singing emotes (the voice is their instrument), including facial expressions, moving hands/arms and dancing, and not ok for a pianist to emote? Actually, sometimes singers are criticized for not emoting enough on TV shows, i.e. American Idol, America's Got Talent, etc.

Re: How much do you "emote" when you play? [Re: MIchael] #2915123 11/22/19 05:18 PM
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Originally Posted by MIchael
Hello all,This is my first post. I have seen discussions on this subject on other forums and You Tube where the comments are not favorable to pianists who emote, and just have to finally ask this question. Could someone explain to me why is it ok when a person singing emotes (the voice is their instrument), including facial expressions, moving hands/arms and dancing, and not ok for a pianist to emote? Actually, sometimes singers are criticized for not emoting enough on TV shows, i.e. American Idol, America's Got Talent, etc.
I can't answer your question but regarding the opinions about classical pianists emoting. But I think the opinion on PW and other places about showing emotion is mixed. Some think the pianist should show no emotion, some only mind what looks like fake emotion, some don't mind or even like extreme display of emotion, and everything in between those views.

One also should remember that the very close up and frontal views quite frequent on YT videos would not be possible for almost everyone in an audience. To get those views the audience member would have to be seated somewhere around the curve in the side of the piano.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 11/22/19 05:19 PM.
Re: How much do you "emote" when you play? [Re: MIchael] #2915133 11/22/19 05:33 PM
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Originally Posted by MIchael
Hello all,
This is my first post. I have seen discussions on this subject on other forums and You Tube where the comments are not favorable to pianists who emote, and just have to finally ask this question. Could someone explain to me why is it ok when a person singing emotes (the voice is their instrument), including facial expressions, moving hands/arms and dancing, and not ok for a pianist to emote?[...]


Since you bring up singers, specifically, I think that one has to take into consideration one critical difference: the singer is telling a story, relating an event, expressing a feeling, all of which are connected to a text. In other words, singers (depending upon the type of song, of course) are, in part, actors and they need to, within reasonable limits, show that they are feeling the text they are singing. What could be more incongruous than a singer singing about lost love, joy or exhilaration with a straight face and no sense of personal involvement?

Pianists and other instrumentalists are most frequently playing "abstract" music that has no text. I can't quite imagine how one would convincingly "emote" to an Allemande from a Bach Partita, for example, unless s/he is grimacing to show how difficult the music is. In this abstract music an instrumentalist's over-emoting can often be a distraction from the pure music being performed. That said, I don't think the instrumentalist needs to perform like an automaton, but what emoting that might be involved should somehow be in character with the music without detracting from it. It's a fine line some overstep.

Regards,


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Re: How much do you "emote" when you play? [Re: rach3master] #2915139 11/22/19 05:54 PM
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Interesting observation Michael.

Firstly I would say, I think it's completely normal to have expressive body language when you play any instrument, including piano. For many people, or at least many styles - of music, emotional connection is a key part of playing and listening to music. You expect the performer to be experiencing an emotional connection to the music and to see that in their body language. I think you'd be hard pressed to find a 'professional pianist' that plays without that, in virtually any style. One particular youtube pianist 'scholar' does come to mind that plays like that and the effect is very dry - to me at least.

The pianists that play with these exaggerated flamboyant expressions do tend to get comments yes, but even they aren't really rare. If you watch someone play a beautiful romantic piece you fully expect them to be look like they're telling a poem to Juliet up a balcony, and if they're playing a blues or funk groove you expect them to be grimacing along with the beat like they're battling a toothache. That's just what we accept as normal.

I'm not sure being all 'woke' and enlightened and saying it's just about the music and body expression is irreverent is actually possible or helpful. If you don't want to exaggerate it or think some people go overboard then that's fine, but I think you're kidding yourself if you think body language is entirely irrelevant to a performance. That's just not how humans or music works. If you want to put on a solo recital that's all new age and has a the pianist behind a black curtain than more power to you, but I don't think it will sell out. I don't think you need to have your hands rise up like they're attached to a hot air balloon after every chord, but if someone wants to do that then I certainly wouldn't hold it against them.

Voice is I think pretty clearly the most expressive instrument there is. It is a very personal and connected thing to someone's identity and character. The control of pitch and vibrato and register, the connection to language, the role within the music, it all comes together to make an instrument that is just incredibly expressive and connected to emotion and 'human'. Contrast that with piano where, when it comes down to it, all you can do is play a note - at a certain velocity and for a certain duration - but that's it. Yes we can create expression with phrasing and voicing and dynamics, but at the end of the day there are very hard limitations in what we can do. I think in a way that drive to pianists to be even more emotive, striving to coax the emotion out of the instrument.

One thing that changed my mind on this was - every classical forum's favourite punching bag - Lang Lang. Obviously a very flamboyant - verging on ridiculous - pianist. But after watching a few of his masterclasses on youtube( eg. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiVD6iKuc1U) somehow I came to understand his expressions a lot more. They are very much there to communicate the piece. And even a type of communication that (judging from the masterclasses) excellent pianists struggle to articulate. But to him they are very important. It's not just notes on a page, or a technical exercise, or a judge's score. It's a feeling of urgency or mystery, tension and release - that is the aim of the performance. And does the ridiculous arm gestures help with that? Well to him I think it does. And that's good enough for me. Yes I realise this make me a lowbrow mainstream classical listener. Oh wellz.

Re: How much do you "emote" when you play? [Re: thepianoplayer416] #2915147 11/22/19 06:23 PM
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Originally Posted by thepianoplayer416
Nothing too excessive but still try to make the hands look less mechanical. When it comes to facial expression, watching Yo-Yo Ma perform is always an experience. Just before he starts playing a note, you can see his facial expression changes from a common man on the street to a someone thinking deeply with his eyes half shut.


Interesting you should mention Yo-Yo Ma. I see him at least once a year at Tanglewood and I always avert my eyes when he plays. I can't bear to see what appears to be so much anguish in his face. Another performer whom I can't bear to watch is Andre Watts. I don't think it is necessary for a musician to make a performance appear to be hard work or a task infused with pain and suffering. Horowitz, on the other hand, makes everything look easy.

Just a personal thing, I suppose.

Re: How much do you "emote" when you play? [Re: bennevis] #2915164 11/22/19 07:06 PM
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Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by LarryK


I tried looking at the ceiling during a lesson and was promptly told: “There is nothing up there!” Point taken.

According to Rubinstein, there are flies on the ceiling that some pianists see. Whether he meant auditory hallucinations or real flies (and a flies' nest - OK, an entomologist will say that flies don't make nests, but I beg to disagree: why else would flies fly on the ceiling?) on some ceilings which strut themselves for select pianists, he didn't elaborate.


Yeah, I’ll try that line of reasoning with my teacher. I’m pretty sure her response will be: “And if there are flies up there, what concern is it of yours?” I’d have to answer, um, none.

My favorite Rubinstein story is the one recounted here:

https://keyofstrawberry.com/arthur-and-sergei/

by Arnold Steinhardt, former first violinist of the Guarneri String Quartet.


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Re: How much do you "emote" when you play? [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2915169 11/22/19 07:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop
Originally Posted by LarryK
I tried looking at the ceiling during a lesson and was promptly told: “There is nothing up there!” Point taken. When I stare too long at the music, I get told: “There is nothing new there, stop looking at the music!” When I was bobbing around like one of the crazy bobbing bird toys, I was told to cut it out and not show how difficult it was to play. When I was waving my hands over the keyboard, I was told that there was no time to do that!

Your teacher cracks me up! 🤣


That is so true!



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