TOWARDS A TRANSCENDENT PIANO TECHNIQUE
The greats don't play as they were taught
In the late 1980’s Alan Fraser’s teacher Phil Cohen founded the Leonardo Project at Concordia University in Montreal to study the qualities of exceptional performance in music, theatre and dance. The project discovered one common factor uniting all the very greatest artists: they don’t do as they were taught. The technique of a great performer transcends the approaches of standard pedagogy and can even radically oppose them. The project also found that qualities of transcendent performance can be analyzed, codified, and taught. Standard pedagogical regimes are a necessary preparation, but Cohen’s life work has been to cultivate that ‘something more’ needed to reach transcendence.
The transcendent artist uses his body differently
Kemal Gekić, one of the top pianists in the world today, is a case in point. Gekić says that it took him 20 years to 'unlearn' his schooling (and he had excellent teaching, the best of the Russian school as taught by Jokuthon Mihailović) to achieve the quality of playing he displays today. Fraser was first drawn to Gekić not only by his amazing sound and expressivity, but by his whole physical demeanour, even at first glance markedly different from what we usually see. The principles of transcendent playing are largely rooted in the body’s inherent potency – the transcendent artist uses his body differently; his subtle, more complex relationship to his physical self enables the deeper expression of his artistic soul.
Return to the body to discover the pianistic Self
This return to the body characterizes the Feldenkrais Method of neuromotor reeducation, which Fraser has also studied in depth. Moshe Feldenkrais, who founded the method and loved the provocative saying, felt "the surest pathway to the soul was through the skeleton." When his method frees the body of unnecessary tension and brings the skeleton into clearer kinesthetic focus, the sense of self does improve. The opposite also holds true: with improved skeletal alignments the brain automatically reduces overall muscle tonus, facilitating easier, more effective movement – a better use of self.
To boldly go where no pianist has gone before
Synthesizing these various strands of thought and experience has made Fraser’s approach to piano technique both unique and global in its application. When we return to the body’s innate structure and function, we access the kernel of truth possessed in one form or another by each of the various pre-existing schools of piano technique – finger action, arm weight, pressure, relaxation etc. The aim is not to invalidate our traditions but to take all the best aspects, integrate them into a new gestalt and so transcend what has come before.
Pianistic improvements across the board
Through many years of playing and teaching, Fraser has found he can bring the qualities of transcendent playing to all his students, not only the most gifted. Acquiring the physical qualities of transcendent playing can transform the ability of even a beginner, yet promises a breakthrough to even the seasoned concert pianist.
The quality of transcendence
One Institute graduate describes her experience thus wise: “Transcendence implies an effortless, free, soaring technique that lets the pianist convey the meaning of the music with nothing between his intent and what is heard. Popular culture would call this ‘being in the now.’ In his lessons, Alan clearly articulates, demonstrates, and gives time for the student to experience how skeletal alignment can minimize muscular ‘work.’ For this, he draws on a lifetime of kinesthetic understandings about how the body works most smoothly, without hiccups or co-contractions that make a passage ‘stick.’
'A few hours of careful observant work with Fraser can end years of pain and frustration.
'Although this can be slow at first, once experienced, it's never forgotten and the progress is exponential. In the end, you feel a sense of ‘floating’ that lets you subtly sculpt sound with ease.”