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Lecture, piano recital highlights importance of your skeleton

  • Among the many things a pianist has to think about while she plays a piece – dynamics, fingering, tempo, rhythm, not to mention hitting the right notes – the proper alignment of her skeleton probably does not often enter her mind

    Among the many things a pianist has to think about while she plays a piece – dynamics, fingering, tempo, rhythm, not to mention hitting the right notes – the proper alignment of her skeleton probably does not often enter her mind

  • Among the many things a pianist has to think about while she plays a piece – dynamics, fingering, tempo, rhythm, not to mention hitting the right notes – the proper alignment of her skeleton probably does not often enter her mind

    Among the many things a pianist has to think about while she plays a piece – dynamics, fingering, tempo, rhythm, not to mention hitting the right notes – the proper alignment of her skeleton probably does not often enter her mind

  • Among the many things a pianist has to think about while she plays a piece – dynamics, fingering, tempo, rhythm, not to mention hitting the right notes – the proper alignment of her skeleton probably does not often enter her mind
  • Among the many things a pianist has to think about while she plays a piece – dynamics, fingering, tempo, rhythm, not to mention hitting the right notes – the proper alignment of her skeleton probably does not often enter her mind

Among the many things a pianist has to think about while she plays a piece – dynamics, fingering, tempo, rhythm, not to mention hitting the right notes – the proper alignment of her skeleton probably does not often enter her mind.

But according to Alan Fraser, it should. Fraser, an internationally known pianist and author of three books on improving piano skills, will be in Concord next week to share his pioneering approach to piano technique at the Concord Community Music School. He’ll present a lecture-recital Sunday, followed by two evening workshops Monday and Tuesday. The series is meant to serve as a prelude to a weeklong intensive he’ll bring to the school this summer.

“A lot of what he talks about is how the skeleton’s supposed to work,” said Kathryn Southworth, chairwoman of the music school’s piano department. “If your skeleton is working the way it was designed to, it definitely changes your sound.” Southworth, a self-confessed “piano nerd,” learned about Fraser after purchasing one of his videos called The Craft of Playing Piano. She was intrigued by his ideas about technique and the possibilities they offered for solving some of the common problems musicians encounter.

“When we play the piano or violin, we can tie ourselves up in knots trying to play difficult pieces,” she said. “There’s a support structure to our skeleton that we tend not to use.”

Fraser’s techniques help people tap into that support structure. A Canadian concert pianist who now lives in Serbia and presents workshops all over the world, Fraser is a longtime practitioner of the Feldenkrais Method, a method of pedagogy that focuses on freer, more integrated movement. Building on other popular piano techniques, he has spent many years applying Feldenkrais principles to piano. In 2011 he started the Alan Fraser Piano Institute, a weeklong intensive with branches as far-flung as Germany and the Netherlands.

Southworth, who attended the institute at Smith College in Massachusetts last summer, was amazed by how Fraser’s techniques helped her and her students.

“It was the biggest shot in the arm I’ve had in a long time, and I’m always looking for a shot in the arm,” she said.

Just this week, Southworth incorporated some of Fraser’s ideas into a lesson with one of her adult students, helping her change the position of her hand so she was using her whole hand, not just her fingers.

“She said it felt totally different,” Southworth said. “What happens is you’re not just feeling like the arch of your hand is static,” she said. “We tend to think of our fingers as ending where they visibly end. The strongest part of our hand is the most neglected part in a lot of piano techniques.”

The benefits of Fraser’s techniques are both therapeutic and artistic, Southworth said. While they can do wonders for relieving common problems such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, they also bring power and precision to a pianist’s sound.

“If you think about cracking a whip, it’s kind of a natural motion,” she said. “If you can think about how much power you can get cracking a whip, just imagine that much power being applied to the instrument. Getting all those bones to function the way they were meant to helps people free up to make that much sound. . . . It’s a relearning.”

Nor are Fraser’s techniques applicable only to those who’ve mastered the basics. Southworth said fellow students at the institute she attended ranged from 7-year-olds to masters-level students.

“It’s definitely for all levels,” she said.

Fraser will present a free lecture-recital titled “Rachmaninoff’s Undiscovered Masterpiece: The D Minor Piano Sonata Op. 28” on Sunday at 4 p.m. He will offer workshops on Monday and Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Registration is required for the workshops and can be completed at ccmusicschool.org. He will bring his piano intensive to the music school June 16 through 23.

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