Ausra: Yes, I think so.
Vidas: Did you have any students, when teaching, who complain that they can’t really memorize things and pieces?
Ausra: Well, not so much; but performance anxiety--I get more of that. Being afraid that during a performance they will forget the music, and they will stop. What about you?
Vidas: Myself, I struggled a lot with memorization, and that was actually probably one of the frustrations I had with my piano playing, back in school. Because normally, we had to play recitals and concerts and exams from memory, several pieces.
Vidas: And I just wasn’t good with that. I could sight-read rather well; but when my teacher told me to memorize a piece of music in a week or so, I just didn’t know how to do this.
Ausra: Yes. And I remember that I always started to memorize pieces too late, and then I would be worrying so much when an actual performance would come. And I still have nightmares at nighttime, that I’m playing a recital or exams, and suddenly I forgot my music!
Vidas: You’re not alone in this. I think just a couple of days ago, I had this lesson with my piano student at school, and for I think four weeks in a row, I’ve been nagging him to memorize his piano pieces. And one of the pieces is 3-part Sinfonia in d minor by Johann Sebastian Bach. And he just can’t seem to force himself to do this. The easier pieces that he’s playing, yes, he’s getting ready, and can at least play episodes from memory; but the tricky polyphonic texture, I think he delays it, postpones it; it’s a procrastination thing for him.
Ausra: Well, that’s just too bad.
Vidas: But kids, small kids, they don’t have problems with memory. I have a second grader who cannot read music, but can play everything from memory just fine.
Vidas: So that’s the opposite!
Ausra: Yes, that way it’s easier for him just to memorize pieces for him--so that he won’t have to look at the music score!
Vidas: He looks at his fingers, at the keyboard, and he memorizes the positions at the keyboard. Of course, he doesn’t understand anything about what he is playing! That’s another problem.
Ausra: Hahaha. That’s true; but that’s what kids and beginners do.
Vidas: Yeah. So guys, if you struggle with this, know that you’re not alone. I haven’t met a person who in some way, shape or form, doesn’t struggle with memorization. And I think the problem might have something to do with a theoretical understanding of what’s happening in the score.
Ausra: And I guess some people are just more gifted than others, because the types of memory that human beings have are so different. For example, you could have very good visual memory. And I envy those people. Because I have heard such stories: for example, one pianist, he would perform a recital, and he would turn imaginary pages for himself, because he could just see the score in front of him. So that’s just unbelievable.
Vidas: Or Marcel Dupré, who’s famous for having played I think 10 recitals in a row from memory, at the Paris Conservatory--the cycle of the entire organ works of Bach. And each recital was paced every 2 weeks. So basically, he had to know a gigantic amount of repertoire under his fingers from memory. Usually pianists and organists can play from memory maybe an hour’s worth of repertoire; maybe 2 hours, right (if it’s a long recital). Maybe if they are touring, maybe 3 hours at the most, if they have 2 recitals of 90min each, you see. That’s the most they can do. But Marcel Dupré managed to play everything from memory, 10 recitals in a row. That’s kind of unbelievable.
Ausra: It is unbelievable.
Vidas: And he did that I think 3 times, one in Paris and then I think twice in America. But he didn’t enjoy that--I’ve read that he didn’t want to repeat it that many times.
Ausra: Yes, I think that’s just too much.
Vidas: It’s torture!
Ausra: Yes, even for him, that’s too much.
Vidas: But it’s like a marathon, right? A very long race. Do you know who enjoys marathons? Professor James Kibbie. I’ve had a wonderful podcast conversation with him about his Bach project: he also recorded the complete works of Bach, and I think also from memory. But not in a marathon session like Dupré; but over a period of time, maybe over a period of one year, when it was Bach’s anniversary. He went to Germany, to the famous historical organs, and recorded. So he writes that he likes to run marathons, right?
Vidas: And this strenuous, continuous running practice helps him to focus for long-term commitment to long cycles, such as recording all the music of Bach over one year, you see.
Ausra: That’s amazing.
Vidas: It is amazing. So guys, if you’re struggling, remember that everybody else is also struggling; but some people find something that works for them, running a marathon, or something else. So keep looking for that golden bullet, and keep looking for things that work for you specifically. Right? But I think you have to understand--we have to explain to people, Ausra--do you think that they should mimic their masters and try to copy them? To be like Marcel Dupré or James Kibbie?
Ausra: I don’t think so. I think everybody has to find their own way, because we are all so different.
Vidas: Yes. So guys, please be yourself; that’s the only thing that matters. And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.