Two Interesting Excerpts From Frank Conroy‘s Book “Body & Soul”

Dell Publishing 1993

Pages 117 - 119 Each of these excerpts contain stunning musical truths I have seldom seen better put on paper. This is from a discussion between Claude, a young piano student and his teacher, Fredricks. H G “...very few players ever get to the point where they realize the wall is there.” The sudden physical intimacy made the boy blush. Fredericks was a fastidious man, and the gesture was so out of character it seemed to suggest that Claude had risen to some new and higher status. “Then there is a wall?” Of course,” said Fredericks. “For all of us.” ... “Come here,” Fredericks said. “Stand here.” He held something in his hand. The boy walked over and faced him. He received a glass ball about the size of a peach pit attached to a string. Hold it like this.” Fredericks also had a glass ball. He held the string between his thumb and forefinger, the ball hanging motionless below. The boy did likewise. “You will find there is an attraction between these pieces of glass,” Fredericks said. “Like magnetism, even though they are glass.” Fredericks reached out and pushed Claude’s glass ball in such a way that it swung in a circle. “Do not move your hand or your fingers. Remain absolutely still and let the ball swing. All by itself.” Claude obeyed, watching the glass ball go around. “Now keep still and watch.” When, after a moment, the orbits of the two pieces of glass brought them near each other. Claude both saw and felt his ball move slightly out of its orbit toward the other one. It was quite distinct. A little jump. “You see?” Fredericks said. “You held perfectly still?” Yes.” Claude was amazed. “Magic. Is it magic?” Fredericks took the glass ball and put them back in his desk. “Some people would have you believe so, but it isn’t. It only feels like magic.” “Well, what is it, then? What made it do that?” “You did.” “No, I didn’t move. Not one bit. Anyway, I could feel it. I could feel a little tug when it jumped.” “You believed the pieces of glass were attracted to each other.” “Well, you said they, I mean, I didn’t actually know whether----” “Listen to me, Claude,’ Fredericks said. This is important. It‘s because you believed. “But that’s like magic. You said---” “I said you did it. You did it without knowing it. Tiny micro-movements in the pad of your thumbs and the pad of your forefinger. Infinitesimally small movements below your level of physical awareness, magnified because of the length of the string, making the ball jump.” Claude looked away and stared into the middle distance for several moments. “Are you sure?” he asked finally. “I’m absolutely sure. I’m positive.” Fredericks moved back and sat on the edge of his desk. Claude turned up his hand and looked at his fingers. He touched his thumb and forefinger together. “You understand the implications?” Fredericks said. “I’m not sure.” Claude continued to move his fingers. “It seems so strange.” “It’s the other side of the wall.” The boy looked up. “I‘ve just shown you that your fingers can do more than what you physically feel them doing.” He made a little arc in the air with his hand. “The other side of the wall.” Claude thought about it. “Yes, but how? How do you do it?” Fredericks got up from his desk and stood directly in front of the boy. “You must imagine the music in your head. Imagine it shaped and balanced the way you want it. Get it in your head and then believe in it. Concentrate, believe, and your fingers will do it.” (Emphasis mine) “My God,” Claude whispered. “Anything you can imagine, you can play. That’s the great secret.” “So it goes beyond the body,” Claude said. “Exactly.” Pages 114 - 115 Fredericks again. Speaking to Claude on the subject of dynamics. “ But consider this: the louder it gets, the less important are the degrees of separation. How useful is the difference between a triple forte and a quadruple forte, after all? Not much. And then, you can only hit the thing so hard before the strings start breaking. No, it’s the other end that particularly deserves our attention. The quieter you play, the more important are the degrees of separation. The human ear can discern the differences between triple pianissimo and quadruple pianissimo quite easily.” ...”The point is, you look at the manuscript and you see various degree of pianissimo, but they are only the crudest sort of guide. For us”-- and here he had raised a finger in the air again--”there are ten thousand degrees of pianissimo.”