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Breaking Out Of Boxes

January 13, 2014

We are limited by the way others see us and the way we see ourselves. I remember sight reading a piece of music for a student early in my teaching career. It was unusual at the time because I played it  with authority so that my pupil woHaliburtob Sculpture Forest (32)uld have the best possible impression of it. On my way home that night it I reflected that playing for my own teacher was most often tentative and deferential. We play to expectations and need – my pupil wanted someone to look up and I embodied that role. On the other hand, if someone is waiting for us to make a mistake – we tend to comply. I have had the pleasure of playing for people who live the music with us as we play – they make it easy give our best.

In our current world we can hear most of the music we learn, which is wonderful. We become so familiar with the score that it is almost like learning folk music: the melodies and harmonies have become old friends. If we listen to one particular recording we start to imagine the music the way someone else heard it. It becomes difficult to unbraid the interpretative aspects from the music on the page. Our imagination is limited by some else’s rendering and we cast a box around our imagination as we unconsciously mimic. When we compare great renderings of a single piece it is quite surprising how different they can be. The great ones know how to be themselves.

One of the ways to unbox our musical imagination is to play with no expression – simply play all the notes equally soft at ppp. Doing this we decrease the physical energy needed and increase the internal energy available for imaging. It is a peculiar paradox that the less animated we play the music outwardly, the more animation we need and add internally. Having a flat image informs our concept of phrasing and allows us to think of nuances coming from our own imagination. Flattening out the aural image enriches the internal one.

The next step requires that we match the external sound with the internal one. There is constant feedback – if we are paying attention properly, and sometimes the two images collide. Updating our internal image to accommodate our abilities is normal, makes us human and is a vital part of the creative process. Conductors and directors must weave interpretations from the abilities of their ensembles.

We have to listen – sometimes a shorter note helps define the rhythm, sometimes little slow down at the beginning of a section helps to keep the tempo from rushing. Sometimes a little crescendo gives buoyancy to a phase. When we are alert to every aspect of articulation and aware of all the textures and pacing we begin to build the music and engage with the magic that lies behind the notes.

One day, Nasrudin went out hunting and shot two quails. He asked  his wife – Fatima, to prepare the fowls, and invited his friend Aslan to dinner. His wife took the birds, prepared them and as they roasted, the smell was delicious. Fatima tasted the quail — just a little piece, so no one would notice. She tasted it again, and again, until there was none left.

IMG_1051As the two men arrived, Fatima called Nasrudin aside, gave him a knife and asked him to sharpen it. Then she whispered to Aslan , “My husband always invites someone to dinner and cuts off their ears. See him sharpening his knife ?”

Aslan yelped and quickly ran out the door. Fatima grabbed the empty platter, rushed to her husband and said, “Nasrudin, our guest has stolen the quails and gone!”

Nasrudin ran after him brandishing the knife and calling, ‘Please, my friend, be fair: at least, let me have just one of them! Only one will be plenty!”

Aslan looked back, saw the huge knife in Nasrudin’s hand, and ran faster, shouting, “If you can catch me, then you can have both!”

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