Why I am not a critic – 1

Earlier this week I was talking to my friend Dx. He is a pianist. I mentioned I had been to the Bronfman performance of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto. He asked me how it was. Specifically, he asked me: “Was it good?”

I was at a loss for an answer.

In a general sense, the answer was “Yes.” At least, I enjoyed it. If he had asked me straight after I heard it, I would probably have been able to give a more detailed answer about what I liked and why. But even then I don’t think I would have been able to give the answer Dx was after.

Dx has played the Tchaikovsky Concerto – not necessarily to his own satisfaction – and I know from my own experience that playing a piece sharpens our views about how something should be played. It generally enhances our appreciation of what is difficult and therefore especially commendable if the difficulty is overcome. At least, that is so for me and I know of no particular reason why it should not be for others.

Dx has some fairly positive ideas about what is good piano playing including some quite firm proscriptive views which delineate its boundaries. I think that these are fostered by his ongoing work as a pianist in a similar if more generalised way as my views of playing specific pieces are underpinned by having played them.

I suddenly realised that my own views about good playing have become much woollier, and that this is because I am no longer playing the piano at all.

I am hardly in a position to be surprised about this, but it’s something I need to reflect on. I played the piano regularly from the age of about 7 to 18, and then from 25 to 46 or so. Even in the years from 18 to 25 I played the piano far more than I do now.

I do know that this saddens me. So what am I going to do about it?

It’s also one reason why I am not a critic.

6 Responses to “Why I am not a critic – 1”

  1. Daniel Kraus Says:

    I understand were you are coming from . I too used to play the piano and keyboard in a band, and studied music for a while. It is hard to make time to play now and it also sadens me. I only get around to playing about 1 time a week, for an hour or so.

  2. Legal Eagle Says:

    I have that problem too. I used to be able to tell when a French Horn was off in an orchestra, but I doubt I could even pick it out now.

  3. wanderer Says:

    Of course you are a critic, unless you mean a professional critic. Criticism is opinion informed to a greater or lesser extent, and yours is informed more than most punters I expect, if not in comparison to Dx. Ultimately ‘enjoying’ something is more important than it being ‘good”, surely. That’s the catch I suppose, whittling away pleasure with knowledge, or rather reducing the incidence, but increasing the extent when it does finally happen.

    You know: A “Guess what.. we went to the Opera in Vienna” B “Really, how was it” A “Fantastic, so good. B “What did you see?” A “La Traviata” B “wow, who sang Violetta?” A “Who’s that?” B “The lady who sings the main part and dies at the end” A “Oh, I don’t know her name, but she was really really good, and the dress she wore in the second Act was stunning, you should have seen it, she looked gorgeous”

    I envy you your talent and wish you could bundle it up and post it to me if you have finished with it. BTW, I enjoyed your “comments” (I daren’t say criticisms) of the SIPC, in fact they were all I had to read about the early stages of it, and then when I was able to listen, the final weekend, you stopped.

    What to do?? Presumably you don’t play not because of no time (which can be made) or no space (which can be sacrificed) or no piano (which can be sought out) but because you are no longer motivated. Meditate on that. Illness (and crippled fingers) is the only excuse. Anything else is a reason. And sadness is not good, don’t be sad.

    Apologies for rant.

  4. wanderer Says:

    5th last sentence, mediate = meditate

  5. Thom Says:

    Oh, I know the feeling: piano seriously from 6 to about 26; again from 32 to 34; currently another hiatus. And boy do I miss it. Much more, in fact, than the instrument in which I majored as a performed. If I take up Wanderer’s challenge, well…I do have the time and I do have the space. I’ve just been too damn lazy to get the piano.

    And on the matter of criticism…?

    Leaving aside the matter of whether you do it for a living or not, I’m not so sure that being a practitioner, especially a current practitioner, is necessarily a help. (Sometimes it can cloud perspective.) The critic must have good ears and an excellent memory for aural and other detail; the critic also needs a sound knowledge of music in its context and history and cultural practices. And above all the critic must have years of concert-going up his or her sleeve – a wealth of experience on which to draw, having listened to many pieces and many performers and sat in many audiences. If you have those things, and can add to them imagination and style as a writer, then the matter of whether you can play a Tchaikovsky piano concerto or not is really immaterial.

  6. Thom Says:

    That would be “majored as a performer” not “performed”. Evidently I did not major in typing, although I do touch type like a pianist.

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