Updated: Aug 2
It’s always a treat to have Ah Ha! moments in life and in music. Over the past few months I have had many and they were all around performing on my new narrow-key digital keyboard… a piano that finally fits my hands.
Pianists often don’t get to perform on the piano they practice with. Unless you are a top-level concert pianist who can travel the world with your own grand piano, you often have, what John Kimura Parker referred to on a Tonebase episode as, a ‘blind date’ with a piano. That too is evolving in a world of increasingly better digital pianos. Many hotels and bars don’t have pianos anymore. Pianists bring their own digital piano to gigs. Pianists often bring their own digital keyboard to weddings and celebrations too. More of us are finally able to perform on the piano we practice on and performing on your own instrument is a big advantage when nerves kick in.
Taking my own piano to gigs had it’s advantages but it wasn’t ideal. I have small hands and constantly re-write music with chords to fit my hand. It is nice to perform on the piano we practice on, but I wasn’t creating my ideal performance. What would make the experience better? Often we don’t know what we don’t know. I assumed it may be a little bit easier to play the piano the way I wanted to if I had a larger hand but I had NO IDEA how dramatic the difference was. I would like to describe it to you my Ah Ha moments this spring. To do that I have to go back to performing in the pre-Covid years.
A few year’s ago (pre-Covid) I played a couple of 10-concert tours in Canada with my sister, Sue Gould. We took our Yamaha P120 keyboards and played 50-minute concerts in community centres in small towns in British Colombia. It was fun and we had lots of great comments about how wonderful classical music sounded on these keyboards (we had great speakers too). At the end of the tours, I was exhausted. It took a lot of concentration to keep the music focused and at a high level. This was my normal. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
This spring we were back, playing 11 concerts in the same communities, and this time I had my NK5.5 narrow digital keyboard. I had a keyboard that fit my hand and the difference was astonishing! I was exhilarated at the end of the tour and I could have played 10 more concerts. The music kept getting better and better and tighter and tighter. The control I felt over octaves, full chords, and voicing was powerful. AND I played all the pieces with their full notation. I erased all the changes I had made and was able to play everything Grieg, Brahms, Gershwin, etc. had written.
This last weekend I played a 2-hour solo concert at the Sooke Art Show and two days later another 2-hour two-piano concert, at the same Art Show, with my pianist husband, Dave Paulson. Again, I felt exhilarated and in full control. The nerves were there, at the start, and they quickly dissipated as the concert progressed. When I finished I felt no exhaustion.
I know and understand why narrow keys are controversial. There is concern it will disrupt piano technique, that they aren’t everywhere to play and perform on, and some even view playing narrow key pianos as cheating. But I want to cry a river of tears over all the years I unnecessarily performed to exhaustion. Over the surgery I had to endure in my 20’s, from pushing my small hands to play the large works I loved. Over beating myself up that I should be working harder on technique than I already was. Over the years, great teachers with large hands, looked at me with puzzled looks simply not being able to relate to my hand size. They didn’t know what to do with me! We all didn’t know what we didn’t know.
I play and perform on narrow key pianos most of the time (acoustic and digital) now. My dislike of playing normal size piano keys has increased, and I don’t like the limited technique I experience when I return to larger keys. I still play them on occasion but now I know what I didn’t know… and it is good.