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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Nancy Garniez’s Hilarious, Insightfully Iconoclastic Piano Book Stands the Test of Time

“I am deeply gratified that this little book is still relevant,” Nancy Garniez said the other night at one of her popular piano salons. That comment had the same understatement and wit that sparkles throughout her 1999 gem of an insider’s guide to the piano, What Might It Mean: An Uncommon Glossary of Musical Terms and Concepts for the Stuck, Bored and Curious.

On one hand, it’s a musical Devil’s Dictionary. Garniez’s relentless humor, which ranges from tart to absolutely withering, is irresistible. As someone with over half a century as a classical pianist and teacher, she has erudition to match those chuckles and can’t resist sharing it. It would be easy to say that there are thousands of dollars worth of lessons in this little 96-page, fifteen dollar paperback, but the reality is that you aren’t going to find this information anywhere else…at least not as concisely.

Garniez describes dolce – the musical dynamic – as “An Italian dessert, whose only relevance to music might take the form of a smudge on the printed score or a sugar-induced slump in a player’s brain.”

Fingering “Is the fine art of connecting ear to instrument. This involves factors no less complex than those connecting eye to tennis ball, baseball, golf ball, bowling ball, etc. No serious athlete would try to simplify that!”

Counting in quarter notes is Garniez’s bête noire – her many riffs on that one are priceless. And, an amateur is “Unprotected by a pretension to flawless technique…likely to be more receptive to auditory impulses than many professionals.” The iconoclasm should be clear by now.

Adults tend to forget that they were ever children to begin with – or if they haven’t, they tend to disown what they learned as kids. Not Garniez. From day one, she was puzzled by how what she played on the piano didn’t completely sync with what she read on the score. As she learned the mechanics of the piano, and then delved into acoustic and auditory science, she realized that she was hearing overtones. That eureka moment will resonate (pun intended) with anyone who either grew up with or gravitates toward the microtones of non-western scales.

Garniez’s realization sparked two others, which inform her pianistic worldview. The first is that a player’s sense of touch is everything. Since the levers for the black keys are shorter, they sound louder than the white keys if played with the same attack. Therefore, they also produce louder overtones, whether or not in combination with the white keys (there are multiple overtone systems in the piano; Garniez offers a capsule view rather than getting into heavy theory).

Secondly, almost from day one, the great composers have been aware of this, and have had a ball utilizing that insight. Garniez offers numerous instances from Beethoven, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Bartok and others. After reading this book, you will hear, or play those pieces, as well as innumerable other repertoire, like you never have before.

The book is meticulously cross-referenced. It’s impossible to read all the way through without leapfrogging between topics…which is exactly what Garniez wants you to do. For example, the concept of linear coloration – the way a composer builds intensity around a specific thematic pitch – relates to fourteen other boldfaced terms. Garniez’s discussion of dynamics links to Phrases, Acoustical Events, Articulation, Consonance, Dissonance, Baroque Music, the Fugue, and the Continuo device.

While Garniez wrote this for working pianists and serious students, it’s a must-read for musicians, especially those of us who either want to get a handle on the challenges facing our ivory-tickling bandmates, as well as those of us who came to the piano as a secondary instrument. Needless to say, it’s also a goldmine for listeners intrigued by how the mechanics of the instrument relate to how composers think – and, for better or worse, how pianists play.

Garniez’s own piano technique, distingiushed by a remarkably legato, cantabile approach, mirrors her insights here. Rhythm is every bit as important to her as touch, although ultimately, listening is the most important thing a musician can do. Any good bandmate would second that.

Garniez’s latest installment in her ongoing salon is at 4 PM on Aug 19 in a comfortable Upper West Side location, a leisurely ten-minute walk from the 1/2/3 station at 96th St. There’s a suggested donation of $30, or pay what you can. Mozart, Schumann and Brahms are on the bill; there will be delicious gluten-free refreshments, possibly wine, and lively conversation afterward. Email for location and directions. 

Fun fact: Garniez is the mom of Rachelle Garniez, the multi-instrumentalist and singer who is probably this century’s greatest and most consistently surprising English-language songwriter.

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August 17, 2018 - Posted by | classical music, Literature, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , ,

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