Seiber - Polka
Interpreting the Music
Teaching & Learning the Piece
• G major, includes a double sharp
• Cheerful dance style
• Grace notes/ acciaccatura
• LH staccato broken chords, including 7ths
• RH staccato semiquavers
• One or two awkward leaps
• Requires accurate playing
Rhythmically this is the most straightforward of the three C list pieces. But it presents a different set of issues to overcome, especially the staccato texture which requires good control of fingering and hand position. It is a cheerful piece in a deliberately old-fashioned style, harking back to the previous century when the Polka would be a standard part of a social dancing evening. A successful performance will go beyond the technical issues of playing so much staccato, and will give a genuine impression of carefree dance.
The video above shows a couple in 19th century dress dancing a Polka; this is the traditional form of the dance which Seiber would have had in mind, rather than the 20th century “Polka” variants which include all sorts of styles including folk, jazz and line dancing!
The need for accuracy and confidence in staccato playing means the foundations must be carefully laid. This will not be welcomed by students who are very good at sight reading new repertoire and like to work it up from a quick first impression. Such an approach will lead to a risky and insecure result in performance.
In laying these foundations, start with slow legato practice of the LH. This ensures the individual notes are anchored in a hand position. In the long run it is much safer to play well-positioned notes staccato rather than bouncing around hoping to hit the next note from somewhere in mid-air. Another reason to give the LH a strong framework is so that the RH 7ths (bars 3 and 11), which do need to be jumped, can get enough attention to be played confidently and accurately.
You may need to spend some time investigating with your student the different ways to play staccato. The quavers can be played with finger or wrist staccato but there is no time to make a deliberate wrist movement in the RH semiquavers. To prevent tension, ensure your student understands the need to keep the wrist free, whilst making the fingers responsible for the shortness of the note.
There are some particularly awkward bars (12 to 14) which will need extra attention and practice. The double sharp symbol may well be new and unknown, and the LH A on 3 ledger lines could easily be misread, so spend some time on these bars in the lesson before setting them as homework. Bar 14 may give students the impression that they are playing wrong notes, because G sharp is heard immediately after two G naturals – go through it slowly to reassure them that this is indeed the sound they should expect to hear when they practise the bar at home!
Other issues in those awkward bars involve coordination, aiming for jumps and negotiating the rapid changes of direction in the RH. In bar 14 both hands have tricky moments and bar 15 provides no respite. All in all, a passage deserving a disproportionate amount of practice – and because it is near the end, the student who typically starts every practice session at the first bar could fail to master it in time for the exam. Below are some tips on how to practise these bars.
Bars 12-13: many students at this level practise bar by bar, with the bar line acting as a barrier to fluency as a result. A line break such as the one here is even more of a hurdle. For these two bars, fluency needs to be achieved by working across the line break.
Bars 13-14: the passage twists about in the RH and leaps around in the LH. Fingering must be settled and consistent if there is to be any chance of fluency with hands together. When starting to play HT, let the student feel their way through the movements, taking the shortest route from one note to the next and never waving their hands about if uncertain of the notes. Each note comes from a previous one, so the exact movement between the notes needs to be as well-known and rehearsed as the actual pressing down of the correct keys.
Remind your student (and write dots on the copy if necessary) that the direction sempre staccato given for the LH at the top, still applies here!
Dynamics are fairly sparse in this edition so do mark in the rise and fall of each phrase. With so much repetition as two bars are answered by the next two bars, little echo effects could be used (such as mp at bar 3 and mf at bar 7). The forte marking at bar 12 certainly does not mean uniformly loud to the end.