Storytelling Without Words


You can tell a story…

(Last night in the Moore Building on North Campus, the Britton Recital Hall housed the Piano Department Faculty Recital. The beautiful instrument with which they performed once belonged to Russian-born American classical pianist and composer Vladimir Horowitz. The Steinway Gallery of Detroit provided this piano, the same Horowitz Steinway Piano he played in the 1986 show in Moscow and his concerts around the world.

I didn’t know the language in which each pianist spoke off stage. Does that matter? No. I did know the language in which each pianist taught. After all, music is a language we all understand.

They conjoined with the instrument to deliver a story that didn’t require words or symbols, a history or a future. They spoke in the melody. They spoke in the moment. Some of the pianists explained the piece from the perspective of the composer before they began to play, while others left the piece open for interpretation. Each of them told a unique story. Whilst they explored their stories, it did not seem like the pianists were playing an instrument. Rather, they fused with the piano to become an inseparable pair.

Christopher Harding executed “Arabesque in C Major, op. 18” of 1839 by Robert Schumann with delicate hands. With a gentle yet masterful touch, he created sounds both loud and soft.

Amy Cheng and Martin Katz demonstrated piano four-hands with “Fantasia in F Minor, D. 940” of 1828 by Franz Schubert. The three units, Cheng, Katz, and the piano, formed a whole. Each note stitched together to form a quilted song. Cheng cued Katz while the pattern of her breath to create flawless seams in the sound. Their fingers bounced off the notes and then feathered back down to the keys to pick up the consecutive notes with eloquence.

Logan Skelton amazed the audience with his rendition. His hands brushed across the keys and painted a vivid setting from the piece. Sound is usually accepted through our ears, but his musical explanation engaged all of the audience members’ senses.

Arthur Greene glided through the measures of Frédéric Chopin’s “Etude in A-flat Major, op. 25, no. 1.” of 1837 and his “Barcarolle, op. 60” of 1846. His face began to flush with red as he charged the piano with another level of intensity, bringing character and passion into the piece.

Matt Bengtson performed Conlon Nancarrow’s “Canon B” from Three Canons for Ursula of 1989. First, he played solely with the left hand, then the right hand, and then brought the two together. The way he played, it sounded as though he disassembled and analyzed each note individually with artistic brilliance.

John Ellis translated “Sunday: Evenin’,” “Tuesday: Sugar Hill,” and “Wednesday: Apollo: Touch the Tree (for Fats)” from Arthur Cunningham’s “Harlem Suite” of 1970. I say translated because it’s like the piano whispered to him and he amplified its voice. He took the listeners back in time to Harlem years ago.)

…Without a single word.


Welcome to my thoughts.

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