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25 July 2023

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A Distant Star in the Stillness - Grade 5 ABRSM Piano 2023-2024 C3 Teaching Notes

A Distant Star in the Stillness
David A. T. Onac

Teaching Notes
On first impressions this piece looks quite simple with its slow pace and basic rhythms. However to score well in an exam performance one must look beyond the notes. 

The composer writes at the start "Resonant and deep" which is further emphasised by the direction "calmato e sonoro". The problem with this almost contradiction is that the overall dynamic is "p" and yet the notes need to resonate. This will require careful tonal control, but another clue can be found  in his own description (reproduced in the footnote of the ABRSM edition), where he says 

"the slow pacing conveys stillness and gives time for the chords to resonate"

So this resonance is produced not only by a firm tone but maybe more so by not rushing the tempo. Each note should have it's own "place" and never should anywhere feel hurried. That said, some of the syncopated rhythms, will need accurate counting, albeit slow counting and this in itself has its own challenges. Counting slowly and accurately is harder than at speed. Another temptation might be to speed up as the music increases in passion and volume (e.g. bar 17). Don't!!

Pedalling is also important in creating this resonance. You will notice that virtually every chord is pedalled individually giving a very clean sound, with never a hint of blurring. Notice too that at the peak of the appassionato section, there is no pedal on the final minim (bar 22), as if this top "E" is special and needs to be paid attention to without other harmonic distractions.

Again the instruction "spread chord slowly" is not just a random whim of the composer, but consistent with giving every note its own place and importance within the piece, even in the middle of a spread chord.

Far from technical suggestions, the best advice to playing this piece well is to understand what the composer is trying to evoke, i.e. that of the vastness and stillness of space. In short - look no further than the title for instruction on how to play this little gem.

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