Ignore the page, and make it your own.
Growing up, I was a stereotypical Asian - Not spectacular at sports, but good at math and science, and played piano and violin (though never took a single private violin lesson). In college, it gets harder to keep up with music unless you’re really passionate about it, and I didn’t spend the time to keep a repertoire of songs on the ready.
However, coming home / bumming means plenty of free time to pick up old music and relearn some pieces, and that is exactly what I’ve done. Here’s what I realized:
As a student, I was a phony. I crescendo-ed, decrescendo-ed, accelerando-ed, and ritardando-ed only because that’s what it said to do on the page (whether that meant it was printed, or written in by my teacher). I think that’s why playing piano sometimes felt like a chore; I wasn’t playing for myself.
This time around though, without the piercing eyes of an “omniscient” teacher, I found myself getting into the music a lot more. I took time where I felt there should be time. I brought the music from pianissimo to forte as I felt the tension building in the music and in my heart, not because of the “pp” or “f” on the page. It felt right and it was real. All the tumultuous feelings, conflicts, and frustrations were coming through. My friend Pamela recently told me that she didn’t “get” me. I think listening to my interpretation of Debussy’s Deux Arabesques would have helped.
Any good piece of art - whether it’s a film, novel, painting, or photograph - leaves room for interpretation, and each person is allowed to walk away with their own take on things. Even better - as people change, so will their interpretation of the art. Music is no different. I’ve been listening to other peoples’ recordings of songs like Fantaisie Impromptu or Clair de Lune, and while I wouldn’t play it like them, sometimes, they bring out other parts of the music that I never thought of. It’s like all of these covers of popular songs you see on YouTube. Everyone can see the song a different way, and who are you to say they’re wrong?
So to all the piano teachers out there: Maybe it’s okay that your student is playing fortissimo when the music says mezzo piano. Maybe the goal should be to get your student to make the music their own.
Of course, you’ve got to have the skills to play the piece first before you can interpret anything, but once you’re there…well, read the title again.