Above all, program planning is of utmost importance. Memorization takes time, a lot of work, and a lot of maintenance. I have to be extremely careful to choose works that I feel I'll want to play for the rest of my life. Life is short, so why devote it to B-list composers or compositions? More so, why make your audience hear anything but the best? I'm sure that some audience members don't need to hear Bach's Italian Concerto again, but it's a useful
piece for any keyboardist to have in his or her repertoire--and it's an excellent piece of music. Without getting too much into how to build a program, just consider that every piece you commit to memory should be something that you'll play for more than one season. If not, is it really worth your time?
In that same vein and as one who returned to memory after years of playing from score, I focus at least 50 percent of my time on works I've already played. Why reinvent the wheel? If I've already played A-list works successfully years ago with music, why not make them part of my permanent memory? This approach immediately helped me to build some repertoire. In most cases, I've been able to memorize the previously learned (but not memorized!) music in less than half the time of new works. All in all, I try to keep a healthy mix of old and new repertoire, but all with the purpose of committing these works to memory.
Given my unique case, I feel that I have a big gap in the concerto repertoire, so I've also made learning one concerto at a time a top priority. Oh, sure, I have concerto repertoire...but now it's time to memorize it! In conservatory, we musicians are always forced to learn concertos with, quite possibly, little hope of ever playing them in front of an orchestra. But what if that opportunity arises? One never knows, and it would be a real shame to turn down a good opportunity. (As with many thoughts on this blog, this is the sort of thing I was told and taught years ago by my conservatory piano teacher, Michael Ruiz.)
As discussed in the previous post, patience is extremely important when working towards playing by heart. For this reason, I insist on working pieces in different stages of development. Starting everything from scratch at the same time is deadly to one's patience, focus, and motivation! I'll go into more detail later when I discuss the use of a practice log and a timer, but, to start, a typical practice session for me might include these types of pieces:
- brand new work (30')
- review of almost-completed work (20')
- half-learned concerto movement (40')
- review of ready-to-go work (15')
- start memorizing previously learned work (30')
Again, I'll get more into this when I discuss the practice log, but it's important to note that the "ready-to-go work" takes the least amount of my practice time.
Finally, because memorized repertoire is permanent repertoire, it's a good idea to review what you've spent so much time to learn. It's probably impossible to keep everything fresh, but it's tragic to let your work wither on the vine. Is it possible to keep a full program ready all the time while learning another program? Maybe--although I don't have enough practice time in the day. But it should be possible to keep a half program alive. Since "ready-to-go" pieces take less time to practice, why not play 15 minutes of concert repertoire each day? Keep it ready, keep it fresh. Your audience needs you!