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Drawings in Thread
Image by SToppin via Flickr

Nancy Curteman, mystery writer and world traveler, contributed this comment to last week’s post, “Sink or Spin?  Keeping Long Notes Alive:”

“Gretchen, This may sound like a bit of a stretch, but I think “keeping long notes alive” can be applied to writing as well. Too often we let an essential plot line flop when we could develop it fully.”

Many thanks to Nancy for this terrific post idea!  I’m excited to see her make a connection between music and writing.  And I feel gratified to have evidence that wonderful things can happen when people talk to each other, even when they work in different fields.


Where do you belong on the follow-through scale?

  • happy to sightread a piece once, that’s it
  • learn something well enough to play through it, leaving glitches intact and slowing down whenever I need to
  • stick with my initial ideas ~ that’s good enough
  • play the piece just like a recording I heard
  • listen to recordings to hear other interpretations
  • follow my ideas as far as they’ll take me
  • remain flexible, knowing that I’ll find more and more depth

Why is follow-through important?

We have all been to many types of performances and listened to many recordings.  Some made a long-term impression.  Others were, for the most part, forgettable.

The performances that “stuck” had depth!  Superficiality is not memorable.  The preparation of a superficial performance is just that, superficial, without curiosity.

Isn’t the composer more important than that?

Of course there are times when sightreading is appropriate and expected.  But if that were the norm, where would our lasting impressions of great music and wonderful performances come from?


I strongly believe that our integrity as musicians depends upon preparation in depth.

Are you happy with your product when you sightread all the time?

What about having respect for your audience?  They are paying to hear you!  Just the fact of their physical presence means that they deserve your best.  They are supporting the arts!  It is our job to care for that.


Making an effort to remain flexible while preparing a program is, in my view, an asset.


In a Rodrigo song, the right and left hands had different rhythmic pulses.  One hand was in 2, the other in 3.  During practice sessions, I had played the piece with a more prominent left hand.  That felt comfortable, but after a few days it also felt boring.

The night before the recital, on a whim, I switched to playing the right hand more prominently than the left.  The result was amazing!  The song had new energy!  It “clicked!”

The singer, a true pro, adapted to the new sound instantly.

In another program, a Bach prelude was giving me fits.  There were many possible interpretations, each with a different tempo.  I had heard various recordings along the way, none of which convinced me completely.

So I decided to listen to Glenn Gould.  His tempo was interesting, but so slow, it shocked me.  It was as if he had been listening to Richard Wagner for a year and nothing else.

After that I had the confidence to find my tempo.

British pianist and writer Susan Tomes* has posted an interesting observation concerning her experience listening to recordings.

And, by the way, I have great respect for Wagner’s music and Glenn Gould’s playing!

So What Do You Think?

How do you feel about following up on your ideas?  Do you think it’s worth the time and effort to do so, or are we just wasting our time?

Please leave a comment below, and tell me what you think.


*Susan Tomes’ new book, “Out of Silence,” is quoted by music critic Alex Ross in this week’s New Yorker.  (See the 2nd paragraph.)

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