There are many different opinions pertaining to this topic. My plan here is to explore my views and respond to your comments.
When I was a piano student, everything had to be memorized. That applied from grade school through college. Although I had no problem memorizing, I always wondered “why?”
Shortly after college, I began to concentrate on collaborative repertoire (songs and arias, instrumental repertoire, and piano reductions for opera and instrumental auditions). Collaboration requires that the pianist have the score in front of her/him. Someone needs to be watching the solo part! It is the pianist’s job to make adjustments if needed.
With all this collaborative playing, I found myself memorizing introductions, interludes, postludes, and any particularly difficult passages. But memorizing entire pieces was not necessary. It must be said, however, that a collaborative pianist practices so much that the music is nearly memorized anyway.
After several years of collaborating exclusively, I became interested in solo playing for the first time. I think this is related to being out of school. Whatever I want to play, I can, and nothing is “required” for an exam or a degree recital. In addition, I have become comfortable speaking to audiences. In fact, over the past several years, that has become a priority. (See previous posts here.)
Memorization just doesn’t seem necessary to me. Teachers will tell you that it’s good for their students, and helps them progress by getting them to be completely familiar with a piece. That may be true. When a student memorizes a piece, she/he often finds freedom from inhibition by removing the music and being able to listen better. For me, now, I can attest to the fact that I play just as well or perhaps better with the music.
So I’m going to continue performing solo concerts using the score.
In the past several years (9 or 10), no audience member, music director or board member has ever commented about the fact that I used the music, or mentioned that she/he was distracted. There was, however, one reviewer who commented, finding a positive!
“… The evening began with pleasant hometown feel — Saathoff came out to speak to the audience and thanked them for coming to hear her music. She requested that the house lights stay up so that patrons could read her program notes, something other performers would not think of in a foreign town. Saathoff played from sheet music, a departure from the far–flung visiting performers who deem such behavior to be déclassé, but here it simply added to the hometown feel and appeal….“
Read the full review here.
What do you think? When you attend a concert, do you expect performers to play from memory? Does it distract you when they use the score? Do you see them as lesser musicians when they use the score?
Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below!
And while you’re here, please read about my new E-book.