This is a picture of yours truly (my brother Steve finds it irritating when I refer to myself that way, which is exactly why I’m doing it) and my faculty colleague, office neighbor, and friend Dimitri Shapovalov. You see us sharing a piano bench because we are the dual accompanists for the Carthage Choir’s performance of five of the Liebeslieder Waltzes (Love Song Waltzes) of Johannes Brahms. This kind of writing is called Piano Four Hands, when you have two pianists playing one piano – and composers sometimes write in this format when they want the accompaniment to be especially rich and intricate . . . something possible when you have twenty fingers flying across the ivories instead of just ten. The challenge, of course, is to get those twenty fingers to move in perfect sync – which is no small matter . . .
For the last several months, as the choir has been learning these pieces, I have had to do the best I could to play a concoction of both piano parts to roughly imitate what the full accompaniment would ultimately sound like. . . and you would think that it would be so much simpler to finally get a partner and, in effect, be able to surrender half of the notes and half of the keyboard to a partner. Not true! I am finding it very tricky to let go of the notes that I have been playing; it almost feel like I’m bungee jumping or doing something like that where a leap of faith is required. In this case, it’s not an elastic cord I have to trust – but rather my partner.
Fortunately, I am blessed with a partner into whose capable hands I am happy to entrust myself. Dimitri is the consummate colleague. . . who undertakes everything with just the right combination of seriousness and fun. . . and whose musicality lightens the air in the room and makes everything feel easier. What can be better than that, especially when one is talking about these effervescent long songs?
Anyway, the choir and maestro Garcia-Novelli heard Dimitri and I for the first time at yesterday’s rehearsal, and I suspect that most of them would have guessed that we had spent a fair amount of time practicing together to get our two parts gracefully intertwined. In fact, we spent a grand total of fifteen minutes rehearsing Sunday night. As we first sat down on the bench to play these, I was expecting that we would feel like two eighth graders at their first school dance – awkward and clumsy and stepping on each other’s feet while trying to pretend that everything was cool . . . but in fact we were pretty much like Fred and Ginger right from the start and each time we play it feels better than the time before. What a pleasure- and it also reminds me that my friend Dimitri has been such a great gift to Carthage’s music department. . . and I can only lament that our frantically busy schedules intersect so little and most of the time we are only a blur in the hallway to each other . . . and maybe a faint sound heard through the wall of our adjoining studios. I love sharing a piano bench with my friend Dimitri, and I fervently hope that future collaborations of one kind or another are in our future.
pictured above: GB and Dimitri playing the Brahms in rehearsal. Thanks, alto Brianna Voss, for taking the picture.