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#2163321 - 10/08/13 08:13 AM Play It Again by Alan Rusbridger
Sam S Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/12/07
Posts: 2173
Loc: Georgia, USA
This book just became available in the US, although it's been out in the UK for quite a while, and I thought I would share my thoughts on it.

I didn't think I would like it, but I was pleasantly surprised. I thought it was yet another account of an amateur pianist tackling a piece beyond their abilities, and we see plenty of that at Piano World, and, with the rare exception, it ends badly. Rusbridger takes on the Chopin 1st Ballade in g minor opus 23, a difficult piece to be sure. There is one forum member that I know of who has successfully played the ballade and did a very good job of it - Sam Rose.

Rusbridger is definitely not a beginner though, but a re-starter, like so many here (myself included). And he seems to have a high level of skill at sight reading, since he regularly takes part in 4 and 8 hand playing sessions of transcriptions of orchestral works. He also does accompanying, and attends a summer music camp in France.

Working against him is his demanding work schedule. He tries to practice 20 minutes a day, but rarely is able to string more than a few days in a row together.

He does achieve his goal of playing the ballade for a group of friends, but it takes him eighteen months.

The value of the book, and what made it interesting for me, are the interviews and lessons he has with famous pianists. Rusbridger is what we call in the States, "a powerful and influential member of the media". He is able to talk to, and ask questions of, people like Emanuel Ax, Murray Perahia, Stephen Hough, Daniel Barenboim and others. I might even be able to play the ballade if I had that kind of encouragement! He also has lessons from multiple teachers. By the end of the book he has two grand pianos, a Fazioli and a Steinway!

But, as my mother always told me, "don't envy the rich" - he also has a demanding job with lots of pressure.

So the book is inspiring and a good read. The comments and insights by the professionals are the best part.

An annotated score of the ballade, including many of the professional comments, is available at Rusbridgers web site. Very interesting reading.

So am I now going to tackle the g minor ballade? Probably not anytime soon. I prefer to work on pieces within my ability or slightly above my level - there is plenty of challenge there and some beautiful music.


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#2163475 - 10/08/13 01:40 PM Re: Play It Again by Alan Rusbridger [Re: Sam S]
neuralfirings Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/29/13
Posts: 223
+1 I read about his project before the book was available in the US and that partially inspired me to work on the Ballade. It's definitely an interesting read, though I actually find his posts on his job more interesting than his writings about the piano. It's a sneak peak behind the scenes at WikiLeaks and Arab Spring!
Working on Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata, Mvt 3.

#2163481 - 10/08/13 02:00 PM Re: Play It Again by Alan Rusbridger [Re: Sam S]
FarmGirl Offline

Silver Supporter until Jan 02 2013

Registered: 09/14/10
Posts: 2269
Loc: Scottsdale, AZ
I have the book too. I think you have enough skill set to try it with the right guidance. It seems to take a long time and perseverance. In my teacher's studio currently two people are working on the Ballade. I hear them every week in our studio. It seems to take 1 year and half or two years to get it sound beautiful. One of them is a very musical 19 years old student with only a few years in piano. The other is a lady who just retired and therefore have long hours to practice. She is a mortal like me but has 10 years over me in piano. I don't have that type of talent, persistence nor time at this point of life. 20 min won't get me learn the piece. The lady I call P here is getting better and better on her Ballade. Not like Alan, she says she wouldn't have thought about trying it when she was working. I will pick it up when I retire.
Pieces for this year to be decided soon.

#2570242 - 09/10/16 06:17 PM Re: Play It Again by Alan Rusbridger [Re: Sam S]
Pianoperformance Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/19/16
Posts: 278
50% read, and whilst I am not aiming for this ballade anytime soon, like Sam S, I love the stories, the journey, and I can relate to all the struggles and some more! Gives alot of us in the beginners forum to keep on going...whilst I don't want to wish my life away, I wouldn't mind some extra hours of playing time during the work week, and the pressure is not all at the weekend. ..to do my homeowrk, and just to play some old pieces 😨
Dream came true : playing the piano
Kawai CS11/Yamaha Arius 161
Lessons since May 2012

#2570359 - 09/11/16 08:37 AM Re: Play It Again by Alan Rusbridger [Re: Sam S]
ghosthand Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/15/15
Posts: 131
Loc: Sweden
You are also able to have conversations with the pianists you admire the most. (Provided that they are still alive, of course.) The classical music world is, thank God, not as hysterical as the rock music world - at least not where I live. The big stars are not surrounded by body guards like Michael Jackson and it is not that hard to talk to them in person. Many of them can communicate with you over Facebook and other social media, if you cannot meet them in connection to concerts.

Yes, there are some "UFO:s" too among them. Some pianists are not exactly social stars, but there are plenty of them otherwise. And most of them are just as interested in the music and the art of piano playing as you are, mind that. Well, it can get pretty awkward if you act as the hysterical fan who just want autographs and selfies, but provided you are serious in your approach you can get serious feedback too. Remember, if you decide you are a serious pianist, you ARE a serious pianist, therefore a colleague to all other serious pianists, even if your repertoire is rather limited at the moment ... The difference between a professional and an amateur is simply that the amateur cannot be a pianist full time, but once he is sitting there at the piano, he is.

Then you can, of course, also be a non-serious amateur who is lazy, unfocused and just giggles the whole thing away. Ok, but I talk to the serious ones now.

With some luck you can even get the opportunity to have a lesson or at least attend a master class as audience. Or maybe a whole lot of luck - but point is, that it is not impossible. These people are just as mortal as you are, they have been just as bad as you are, they all have had students that are not-so-bright (or very young). Yes, that is the fascinating thing about piano playing: we all play on the same kind of instrument. We all practice and study the same way (or at least we should!) and we have ALL been beginners once. No matter how fantastically Barenboim can perform a Beethoven sonata today, there was a time when he couldn't play it either and had to learn it just like you do, with all the struggle and mistakes.

Well, I don't own two grands either, not even one. I cannot house nor afford such things. I have a digital ... which works fine for me. But if I search opportunities to play on better instruments, I find them. I have played on many wonderful concert grands by now and I have truly enjoyed the experience. You can visit shops and showrooms, you know ...

No, I don't live on Manhattan and I don't socialize with the upper music society. I live on the countryside in Scandinavia and here it is a challenge to find ANY piano teacher, even on basic level. I am not rich. But ... again, opportunities do show up, if you are paying attention. Internet works fine from here too.

I have the book too but I have not started to read it yet; I just read the preview before I bought it. (E-book of course.) But I found the topic highly interesting. I struggle to learn the Appassionata so I recognize what he is talking about. And I am just a mediocre amateur myself.
My piano practice blog: https://pianovning.wordpress.com/
Some recordings: https://soundcloud.com/christina-br-nnestam

#2570373 - 09/11/16 09:34 AM Re: Play It Again by Alan Rusbridger [Re: Sam S]
Pianoperformance Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/19/16
Posts: 278
Good point ghosthands, access to Internet has made communication easier. The book just opened up the broader topics of what it takes to learn any new pieces of music, how our brain is wired to do certain things or not, and yes there is always someone who learnt it early on, and the constant aghast of am I too old to learn it now? The book reassured me that this journey is mine alone.. i just have to put in the time, plus lessons!
Dream came true : playing the piano
Kawai CS11/Yamaha Arius 161
Lessons since May 2012

#2570590 - 09/12/16 09:29 AM Re: Play It Again by Alan Rusbridger [Re: Sam S]
Pickers29 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 09/11/16
Posts: 2
Before i read this book my dream was to one day play the 1st ballade so this was especially inspiring to me smile I'm a heck of a way off at the moment (just finished grade 5) but the book made me much more confident that my goal could one day become a reality!

It's nicely written and i too particularly liked the interviews with professionals, I think maybe he down played his ability and the fact he is a fantastic sight reader but none the less it showed that hard work pays off!

(First post, Hi everybody :D)

#2570592 - 09/12/16 09:41 AM Re: Play It Again by Alan Rusbridger [Re: Sam S]
Pianoperformance Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/19/16
Posts: 278
Hey pickers29, welcome! Ha, good for you, we look forward to hearing about your journey. Congrats on grade 5! No light achievement.
Agree, what ever level we are striving for, hard work does pay off, almost finished the book, and I wish there was book 2...
Dream came true : playing the piano
Kawai CS11/Yamaha Arius 161
Lessons since May 2012

#2570831 - 09/13/16 02:49 AM Re: Play It Again by Alan Rusbridger [Re: Pianoperformance]
Pickers29 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 09/11/16
Posts: 2
I'd love a sequel too! Thanks for the warm welcome smile


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