I used to have this dream when i was sick that i entitled “the penny dream.” It would have been more aptly titled “the repetitive stress disorder” dream, or more colloquially “the Chinese water torture” dream, and maybe now you get the idea.
In the dream there was a set of balanced scales, and on one scale would be something improbably heavy, like a refridgerator, or a Buick. On the other scale, its weight would be ticked off by pennies steadily dispensed by some unseen hand. And, though the scales were large, inevitably as we approached the actual weight of the thing, one of the pennies would land just so that it sent dozens of other pennies cascading off of the scale, leaving me even further away from equalling the weight of the elephant or RV on the other side.
Any run of the penny dream that made it to the penny cascade more than twice almost always ended with naseau. Which brings me to today’s topic: the Hanon Exercises. Charles-Louis Hanon, evil genius and bane of piano students everywhere, penned The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises, a series of repetitive runs, arpeggios, and trills meant to strengthen all of the bits of the hand that are typically weak and lifeless.
Fine in concept, but then you merrily unwrap the book from its swoosh encoded box from Amazon to discover that past the first few exercises, just reading the exercise is going to be an exercise. And, furthermore, what looks like a fairly simple sequence with one or two skipped keys is actually the slow penny-dream-like torture of your pinky finger, until at the end of the first time you make it through four repetitions without hitting a stray note (for me, about forty minutes of warming up) and your pinky stretchs for the last perfect bass C you think, “yes, i will actually vomit on this casio fully weighted, graded, lifelike keyboard if i have to push down that key with my pinky.”
It’s after i reach that point with Hanon that i moved into the Bach, staying to the blessedly non-accidental keys and playing at approximately one eleventh of the speed that a professional player plays the exercises at, because professional players read eleventy times faster than i do. (Actually, i’ve discovered that if i’m allowed one run through a measure to screw it up i can usually do it correctly the second time, which means all of my Bach practices run doubly long, but i’m getting much surer much quicker than i expected to).
And, if i managed to get through the Bach relatively in one piece and with most of my dinner still intact, along with my pinky finger and my sanity then, depending on my mood and level of death-defying counting skills, i either play Tori Amos or Radiohead.
I don’t know if i could have ever really endured these piano-practice pennies as a child – i had a lot of patience, but not a lot of endurance, if that makes any sense. As an adult i realize that, occasionally, something tortorous is in my best interests.