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Cupola. Source: Pixabay. Public Domain

Cupola. Source: Pixabay. Public Domain

 

When is the last time you performed something without using the pedal?  That’s right, no pedal at all.  

As it happens, I did exactly that on Sunday night.  I was thinking about that while driving home, trying to remember the last time I’d omitted all pedal. There was one occasion several years ago.

Christ & Saint Stephen’s in midtown Manhattan features a dome above the altar area.  A baritone I played for had included “Why do the nations rage” from Messiah on his recital program.  The piano reduction, 16th note tremelos, sounded like what you might call a bloody mess!  The singer’s girlfriend, a professional cellist, attended the dress rehearsal, for which I shall always be grateful.  She suggested that I play 8th notes at first, but even that sounded too muddy for audience consumption.  Then she suggested playing quarter note chords, no tremolo at all, without any pedal.  Amazingly enough, that worked.

Prior to that experience, the only time I played without pedal was probably in college, when playing Baroque music.  At the time, I was a die-hard original sound freak, or preferred to come as close as possible given that I was playing a piano rather than a harpsichord.  That certainly meant that the pedal was not to be used at all.

Since college, I have discovered that using the pedal on every note of a continuo bass line (i.e. quarter notes) enhances the sound without blurring it. But it must be used judiciously!  Just tap it.  The idea is to allow the strings to vibrate without making the sound last longer.  You will hear the sound become rounder, closer to cello pizzicato.

Sunday night’s concert venue was a large church with high, valuted ceilings. The reverberation time was at least 4 seconds.  We performed Copland’s “The Promise of Living” with a large group of combined choruses.  The version on our program featured a piano four-hands accompaniment.

Both of us arrived at the piano, sat down and looked at each other.  Whose score would we use?  After we solved that question, my fellow pianist said, “Do you want to pedal?”  I said, “Go for it!”  He was playing the secondo part. The pedal would be easier for him to reach.  In addition, he would be playing the part with the harmonic rhythm.

Soon after, we heard how live the acoustics were in the space.  The piano was some distance away from the singers.  We decided not to use the pedal at all, in order to provide as much clarity as possible.

I’m happy to say it worked!  A professional singer, who sang an aria during the program, was sitting in the audience during the Copland.  She and I were talking afterwards, when she said she heard clarity, and it sounded as if we had pedaled.

Have you ever performed with no pedal?

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