Playing Hanon: “One more distraction, please.”

Sojin Shin || Op-Eds Editor

Photo courtesy of the author

Hanon is a book consisting of 60 (240, in its original glory) finger exercises. None of them are “music”, so to say. Each measure is a musical pattern that repeats itself until the end, built solely for finger agility and control of one’s forearms. As a child learning how to play the piano, it was my least favorite to practice, and I quickly ditched it in favor of sonatinas and Czerny.

Yet, as the quarantine proceeds, it is somehow the Hanons that I have been playing daily. Twenty minutes, five times per each piece. I have been practicing some hymns, but even those I skip from time to time. Not the Hanon.

It’s weird. It’s not even that Hanon will guarantee improvement in my piano skills. Hanon is a hotly debated instructional material—some insist that they are critical to improving arm strength, while some claim that they are entirely useless in building technique. I really might be better off playing etudes, which sound more beautiful and require a finer and more dexterous movement of the fingers. Still, every time I sit in front of a piano, the green covered Hanon that my mother bought me when I was 10 is the first book I grab.

 I began thinking about why, recently, because Hanon, even for twenty minutes a day, is kind of a terrible thing for my poor mother to listen to. 

Then I decided to cut myself some slack, because of the pandemic.

We are living amongst a disaster. Being in New York, it feels suffocating, and I am not even in the most precarious position. There are 27,000 cases in my county, which is significantly smaller than 150,000 cases in people-packed NYC. I am not going outside, but I (used to) like being indoors anyways. Every wall of our house has big, clear windows on them. I get ample sunlight. I think I make more Vitamin D here than I did in Lancaster. I am not a healthcare professional, I am not a grocery worker who has to risk their life for 14 dollars an hour, and I have masks and gloves that I can use if push comes to shove (if we run out of basil pesto, per say). 

But I am so panic-stricken. It is the thought of getting it eventually, or even more terrifying, one of my family members getting it. It’s the thought of my fragile grandparents in Seoul (SK has been doing a great job containing the virus, at least. Thank goodness.), or even just the random fears about doorknobs or lamppost or even the air that I breathe when I occasionally take a stroll. Air that I breathe which so infuriatingly smells like spring. I am slightly offended that the universe looks so lovely, with dandelions and budding trees and bursting blooms of violets, when I am stuck in my house, horrified. Where are the thunderstorms and clouds of darkness? 

I need to mourn, badly. But not so badly that it will ruin me. So, each day, I play Hanon. Most pieces are all nice 32 measures, and practicing them feels more like sewing than playing the piano. I know where my fingers must go. I just have to focus on how they fall. Using one’s weight is the basis for playing the piano. Playing Hanon is the practice of evenly distributing the weight through the fingers, so no notes are clustered too close or stretched out too far. It is also the practice of putting down that weight gently, like a basket of feathers, so the notes don’t sound too harsh. After focusing on my own weight, which is surprisingly significant, I tend to feel lighter, ironically.

This all might sound frivolous. Who cares about how much an arm weighs when a pandemic is raging outside? Still, I strongly recommend that everyone who is reading this haphazard article (Thanks, The College Reporters, for all your generosity and tolerance to my shenanigans) to find distraction as well. Coronavirus is out there, and we all need to escape the anger, bitterness, and loss in some way.

Well, I guess I can’t claim that for everyone. I do, however. I want to stop wanting my old life, even for a bit. I want to stop wanting the art studio. I want to stop thinking about the magnolia trees on Hartman Green. I want (for my dignity, really) to stop wanting to eat at Dhall. God, I want to go to graduation, and I so miss the feeling of being in someone’s presence, within 6 feet, so that their laughter falls in my palm. I need a moment to stop wanting these things, to even not care about the loss of these things.

I need a moment to gently break down, so my grief won’t hurt me. Hanon does it.

Sophomore Sojin Shin is the Op-Eds Editor. Her email is sshin@fandm.edu.

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