What are you looking for in pieces of new piano music? Sarah Nicolls



Sarah Nicolls
Photo by John Clark

The answer is twofold:

  1. What I look for in choosing a piece.
  2. What I look for when learning it.
  1. In choosing which music to learn, I look for a sound-world or language which challenges me but obviously has its roots in musical rather than theoretical thinking.

    It is always hard to judge music that is not easy to play, or is completely new (e.g. having no points of reference from knowing other works by the composer), especially as time is never in abundance. I often record myself sight-reading the piece so that I can sit back and just listen to see if it appeals in a purely acoustic way to me.

    I’m required to learn student pieces for composition projects. Here, I also look for technical accessibility and, if necessary, make suggestions how similar effects can be achieved in more pianistic ways.


  2. When learning new music I find the process circular. I spend hours working out rhythms, calculating things, and making sure the dynamic layering is absolutely accurate. During the process I find above all else if I continue to really listen, gradually familiarization sets in and I begin to feel more at home within something, which at first glance was frankly scary! Of course, sometimes it is necessary to backtrack in order to check that the level of accuracy has not been lost to any personal impulses that may have taken over. On the other hand, it is also one’s personal communication of a piece that will hopefully bring it alive.