"The times I have truly played well, was like a near death experience. The first time I experienced this was in a performance of Liszt's Sposalizio, and then again in Chopin's Ballade No. 4. I was not aware of my playing at all. There was only an intimate connection with the piano as if we were extensions of one another. It seemed like the composer and the music came to life. The playing was effortless. All I had to do was get out of the way and allow it to happen. It was truly a spiritual event. Afterwards, I felt a bit of vertigo, like the peace and bliss of death and regretted to come back. I had experienced this listening to other performers, but never in my own. Does this make sense? Is this 'the zone' you speak of? And how does one consistently reach this place?"
It is ones greater personal benefit to experience individual, personal playing as deeply as you have described it. In my opinion, such feelings belong only to bigger talents; I can imagine the Great actors of the pasts as Sarah Bernhardt, Helena Modjeska (Modrzejewska) or musicians as Paderewski – such psychical state you have written about, might belong just them, perhaps; nowadays such feelings I experienced watching the recital recorded by Mr. Lang Lang in Carnegie Hall (DVD from year 2004).
Still "The Zone" in this meaning I personally am writing about, is not so mysterious at all: it should be interpreted as the thing that ought to easily be achieved even by little talented students of the piano, even by children who actually start theirs piano education. It is the state, the greater talents are getting from the Nature: a full compatibility with the instrument and the musical action as a whole. We, whom belong talents of smaller extend, may only try to imitate and/or emulate such useful benefit.
Better said - we should try to take off this all-inappropriate baggage which formal teaching tradition has put on our shoulders, into our hands and in our understanding of music and begin the great "retour à la nature". We have to start our piano education once again, but now - having not formal basis in our work.
Now we must think about the mind & body wholeness as well, as of very prosaic, still useful, measurable - I would say - very professional things: "The Zone" is the first one. It should mean here "the well-proportioned balance between activeness of mental and physical elements in playing the piano" from the one side, and from the other one - "the most ergonomic way in practical using of the instrument". Such situation cannot be obtained without strictly personal player's activity because in the each case the measures are rigorously dependent on the player's personal needs.
Therefore the teachers' work must not be only of the explaining character, but as well of the activating one. I do not must say - the personal example is the best teacher ("actions speak louder then words"). And however many poor musicians strongly belief in impossibility "to make" the pianist, seeing this problem from the other side, it is the pure truth that for some mysterious reasons in particular classes the students are growing up faster and gain better results then in others!
Now, to "The Zone", again: seeking for such "well-proportioned balance" one has to take into consideration some important factors of mental and of bodily roots:
- The thing must be completed with clearly experienced feeling of real pleasure in the hands and ears in accompany of entirely pleasant emotion.
- The player must personally decide how much he/she would like to use ones fingers' activity in proportion to the hands' weight in articulation of the sound (let you check up The 5 Great Bonuses, thank you!).
- The real legato might happen only in the pianist's fantasy: the flowing vision of the particular sound could be fluently joined to another flowing one only in this virtual space. The fingers must respect the reality of keyboard yet: theirs activity cannot be directed to the accidental level; the aesthetic control must persistently be switched on because only through professionally trained hearing the pianist can properly develop his/her instrumental technique. The bowing motion of the hands will greatly help to keep all mobile elements together - strategically directing the action's drive.
There exists some kind of the superficial discordance between the character of legato in ones thinking and the character of his/her manual activity in playing the piano. The reality of the piano playing causes the necessity to use, at last in very limited extend, the nearly up-down motions that are in the full discordance with character of the nature of Music and Musicality. The piano technique of any other kind - except the Chopin & Neuhaus' one - strengthens such conflict very strongly (I have not heard of any other positive example and I would be profoundly grateful hearing some positive information from YOU!). Using "The Zone" in such meaning I just try to explain might truly help to minimize it; however, factually, the discordance I actually am speaking about, exists on very theoretical level only. Its virtual existence is the very small price we must (virtually...) pay for the physical comfort of playing the piano. Thanks to "The Zone", instrumentally seen, and due to real existence of the Emotional Resonance in the human's mind, the full-singing legato is really possible in playing the piano and only "absolute finger legato" can remove such value from the piano technical armory.
I would be profoundly satisfied if these comments could help you to understand the Great Chopin & Neuhaus' piano idea. Still "to understand" only - might be not enough! One should try to put this wisdom into ones piano practice immediately! Liberating the hands, activating ones creative hearing and fantasy one might experience much more then rapid increasing in ones piano professionalism. I am deeply sure that you all, who for once enter the miraculous world of artistic integrity in the musical practice having the Chopin & Neuhaus' idea as a guiding value, in shorter or longer time will possess much more then one could be able even to imagine today.