Nose to the Keys

[As many of you know, I do a bit of trawling around the internet from time to time. This week, David Rakowski and Amy Briggs Dissanayake seemed to be everywhere—this week's YouTube new music celebrities. When a reader wrote to NMBx hoping to find out more about these videos, I went to the source, and Amy was kind enough to indulge my request for the backstory.—MS]

David Rakowski and I made video recordings of some of his piano etudes between 2002 and 2004, in various stages of preparation for the Bridge recordings. I know he’s also recorded Marilyn Nonken doing a bunch of them. These are informal recordings; most of them were made in the recital hall at Brandeis University on their old Steinway D (lovingly referred to as “Tubby”). We recorded “Martler” at the American Academy just after the final session for that first Bridge recording, with Judy Sherman in the background; and a couple of others were made here in Chicago prior to a recital.

At the time, I didn’t think much about Davy video-recording them. Anyone who knows Davy knows that he’s a techno-geek, and he’s also fascinated with the visual aspect of the performance of his music—the piano etudes especially. He began showing the movies to students, houseguests, and in lectures and presentations when I couldn’t be there (which was most of the time). He showed them to anyone who would watch and sent me copies of DVDs in various incarnations. I began meeting people (usually composers) who would say, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen you before, playing with your nose!” I was happy that “Schnozzage” was getting some play. It may look silly at first, but it can be strikingly effective, and in my opinion, it’s one of his most beautiful etudes.

The YouTube thing started because I was getting my website ready a couple of months ago, and I wanted to include a few of the videos. Davy emailed me the links to the etude movies on his website, and then decided, for the hell of it, to put a few up on YouTube. He emailed me the links the next day. The next thing I knew, he’d added, and added, to the first few. To be honest, I’m not completely sure how many there are of me playing at this point, but it’s okay.

There are some that are better, performance-wise, than others, and I’m sure I could find many I’d like to re-record. But I think the informality of a “venue” like YouTube is quite wonderful; especially in this age of hyper-controlled, edited media. I think they are especially fun because of the visual component that you don’t get on a CD; whether really blatant, like “Schnozzage” or “Fists of Fury,” or more subtle, like the crossing-hands etude, “Martler,” or the etude on glissandi, “A Gliss is Just a Gliss.” As for viewer response, I have had emails from old friends who stumbled on them as well as from people I don’t know. I’m not sure how much interest among other pianists the movies have generated, but I’d be interested to know. Since they are etudes and incorporate some degree of technical/physical maneuvering, I imagine that the movies could be a good resource for someone trying to choose between etudes, or in deciding whether to tackle them in the first place. As for the permission question, I was always fine with it; I’ve always felt close to this music and loved performing it, and was happy to make the movies. I’m glad that they are there as representations of a substantial part of Davy’s work, and as the performer, I’m happy to be represented, too.

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5 thoughts on “Nose to the Keys

  1. marilyn

    bodies at play
    To me, what is so valuable is that these videos convey the physicality of Rakowski’s etudes. There is something exquisite and integral to this music in its very embodiment, and this very compelling aspect of the works can usually only be grasped in live performance. As so much music is experienced now in “virtual” environments, listeners often lose their connection to the performer’s body as the vessel through which the music passes in real time. It’s an unusual pleasure to witness this music as an act of intimate performance.

    Reply
  2. teresa

    Hi Amy,

    I recently saw/heard these fabulous performances of David’s etudes on YouTube. Having played and recorded a few of them myself, I know how difficult they are, and yet you make them look effortless (even with your nose!). I don’t know if I’ll ever play “Schnozzage”–I’m waiting for David to write the “All Elbows” etude I so desperately require…

    But seriously, Nocturnal and Close Enough for Jazz are two of my favorite etudes to play. Truly great piano writing by an excellent composer….

    Reply
  3. william

    I heard Amy perform at a festival at East Carolina University in 2002. She is stunning, and one of the absolute greats of the new music world. I hope you will all be able to hear her at some point. And she is a very kind and generous person too. Our only loss is that she is not also a composer. I think she could do great things.

    William Osborne

    Reply

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