In most writing handbooks, the golden rule is to avoid repetition. Renowned pianist Simone Dinnerstein, however, finds repetition worthwhile.
“I myself suffer from circular thinking, and I thought it would be interesting to delve into it. I noticed that there is so much music that repeats itself,” Dinnerstein said in an interview with Spectator.
Known for her groundbreaking recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations in 2007, Simone Dinnerstein is one of two artists that Miller Theatre spotlighted in its series, “Signature Keys,” in December 2018.
In classical music, repetition can be found in the rondo form, a musical form that consists of alternating contrasting themes. Using the rondo as a point of intersection between the worlds of the classical and the contemporary, Dinnerstein’s new repertoire interweaves the works of François Couperin, Philip Glass, and Robert Schumann.
Dinnerstein is also a big proponent of music education. She leads programs such as Neighborhood Classics, which have provided space for her to explore repetition.
“Whenever I teach, I guide my students toward what I think they should listen for. As I do this, I also pay attention to what I teach. If I explain to an audience or to children something about the music, I explain it to myself as well,” she said.
Lately, Dinnerstein has brought the power of repetition to the attention of her students.
“Repeats, even if they are completely identical, are not the same, because they are played by human beings, not machines,” Dinnerstein said. “The music I play is always going to sound different: I’ll give it a different type of inflection or I’ll bring out a different voice in the music or I’ll change the dynamics or the color. And so then when I am actually playing the music later on, sometimes the things that I said about it echo in my head and make me highlight those elements even more.”
Though rehearsing for performances is a highly repetitive activity, Dinnerstein appreciates the nuances that arise each time she practices on a new instrument.
“I’m influenced by the different pianos that I play on. The piano has a different quality that made me respond in a different way,” she said.
So, perhaps repetition should not be discouraged after all, according to Dinnerstein. Repeating patterns provides space for reflection. Dinnerstein talks about how young children like to have the same stories told to them, how students repeat their studies over and over to digest information, and how people cling to their routines in their daily lives.
On Dec. 8, 2018, Dinnerstein returned to Miller Theatre with an expanded repertoire that revolved around this idea of repetition. She repeated a stage setting from her last concert in the space, putting candles on stage and even placing some lit ones inside the piano.
Using the candles as she did last year to gently blend the barrier between composer and audience, Dinnerstein invited each audience member to join her on her journey into repetition.
“[It is] a deeply human problem that cannot be cured,” she said.
Through her own programming, she suggests that perhaps this problem does not need to be cured.