No worries! The following is not a scientific analysis!
*The lid may be closed or removed entirely.
Where do our preferences come from concerning the position of the piano lid in performance?
- Early teachers
- It’s always been that way
- Never thought about it
If you think about balance, I’m sure you must have your own list.
What are the important considerations when balancing other instruments/voices with piano? If you’re the soloist, your main concern is that your part will be clear. But what about the other performers? If you’re the pianist, YOU want to be heard. (There are exceptions. Sometimes pianists seem to be intent upon disappearing out of a fear that they will be too loud.)
Assuming that our goal is to find appropriate balance among all participants, there are several variables that need to be considered from venue to venue:
- Acoustics of the room
- Curtains (at the front, back, and sides of the stage, at the windows, and on the walls of the room), seat cushions, carpet, wall hangings, hard surfaces, shell/no shell behind the performers
- size of audience (which wears clothing that soaks up sound)
- the way sound travels on stage (can you hear other performers?)
- other variables in the hall (i.e. moveable acoustical features, such as blinds, panels, walls, ceilings)
- Sometimes a room has a muffled sound. A closed lid, in that case, means that the piano’s sound is not clear.
- Where is the soloist in relation to the piano? If the piano is “too loud,” is that actually the case, or would moving away from the piano create a separation in the sounds (soloist/piano) and resolve the problem? Try it! A change of only a few inches often makes a huge difference.
- Size of room, size of piano. Smaller rooms with larger pianos may call for a shorter stick. I would tend to consider this arrangement, but I know other musicians who use full stick regardless.
- Type of music? Joseph Fuchs used full stick ALL the time for violin/piano. Part of the resonance of the violin came from the piano’s soundboard. When playing music with more density in the writing, I would tend to prefer short stick.
- The pianist’s manner of producing sound. When less arm weight is used, the sound is lighter. More transparent writing in combination with less arm would make full stick clear but not overwhelming. Also, voicing the piano part (more focus for prominent lines) goes a long way.
Perhaps you feel that using the short stick would be too much. In addition, some pianos no longer have a short stick. Occasionally, manufacturers include only full stick or a variation, about 3/4 high.
You can take a wooden block with you.
A rectangular block, painted black, about 5” or 6” x 3” x 2”, is a better choice than a hymnal or book. Propping the lid open with a book results in a dented book cover. In church concerts, churchgoers are sometimes offended when hymnals are used in this way. (Setting anything on top of the Bible is considered sacrilegious. By extension, the hymnal, which contains sacred texts, is included in this category by some. If you want to be invited back, don’t prop the lid open with a hymnal.) Also, painting the wooden block black helps to avoid audience distraction. The dimensions of the block allow it to be used on either side and on end. Plenty of options.
Using a recording device to assess the sound is a great way to go when you have the time. Yo-Yo Ma swears by it, placing the recorder at varying distances from the stage. This can be done during solo practice sessions, rehearsals, and warm-ups, as well as in performances.
The acoustics of the room change depending on the size of the audience. Rehearsals typically take place in empty halls. Once the audience arrives, everything changes. So keeping an open mind, listening to the room, making adjustments in one’s playing during a performance, and trying various options make a difference.
My hope is that performers will be aware of the variables. For the music to reach the audience effectively, the sound needs to be clear.
Please experiment! And… go.
How do you approach the piano lid issue? Comments welcome!
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