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…Phantoms of generations past are in our bodies. These explain us to ourselves. Linda Hogan

January 25, 2016

drinking cupReaching for my drinking cup, after having done so for many years, it dawns on me that I love that particular vessel. It is uneven, more triangular than round with a bumpy surface and this unevenness makes it very easy to drink out of. Having always liked that cup, my affection for it grows as I use it with increasing frequency. Perhaps because so many things in our everyday world are mechanically perfect, these idiosyncratic objects become all the more valuable.

A friend of mine suggested that we think of the time it takes to play a measure of music rather than each beat. If we make sure each measure has an equal time value we can be freer with the notes in between. This will mean that we move beyond regular pulse, taking a larger increment of time for our constant. A little bit like having the metronome beating once for every measure, which is a formidable but doable task. While a larger ensemble tends to regularize the pulse, soloists need play with a more supple approach.

I am intrigued by the advice given by the great pianist Vladimir Horowitz from a 1932 article: [We can play so as to] not lose the intermediate tones; they are all there. But the listener does not hear them obtrusively. Each falls into place, and the emphasis is on the last tone to which the others lead. We must know where the notes want to go and apportion both volume and time to each one accordingly. We plan a careful unevenness that is idiosyncratic to that particular phrase.

I remember a great Brazilian guitarist* telling a class that in a choro, the fermata [a pausing place in the music] was important because the guitarist and the percussionist were always in a struggle: one who sets up a groove and one who breaks it. We were told that the guitar player had to make the percussionist wait, and make each pause unpredictable because that tension was intrinsic to the music. The player has to sense the energy created by the forward motion, break it a bit, but not too much. Waiting too long will stop the music.

There are numimageserous point in any piece of music where we breathe. This allows the audience to rest as well, for good listening is hard work. Sometimes I feel that modern playing has followed modern life and as we forget to breathe in our life, our musical interpretations reflect this unrelenting intensity. We forge ahead without breathing seeking to emulate a more mechanical perfection. That is why I like my special cup so much.

  • *The guitarist was Turibio Santos

While on a trip to another village, Nasrudin lost his favorite copy of the Qur’an. Several weeks later, a goat walked up to Nasrudin, carrying the Qur’an in its mouth. Nasrudin couldn’t believe his eyes. He took the book out of the goat’s mouth, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, “It’s a miracle!”
“Not really,” said the goat. “Your name is written inside the cover.”

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