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…all the oceans we contain coming to light – Linda Hogan

February 29, 2016

The instruments we play are rife with limitations and possibilities. Limited by the kind of sounds they make but with an infinite range as to how we shape those sounds. I have seen performers who want more sound than their instrument can produce, and players who seemed to wallow in the sound so much that they made the music smaller. I have had the good fortune to have worked with talented and musicians and ensemble coaches at many points in my life. These mentors have shaped my musical vision and allowed me to experience music at the most sublime levels. The chance to sing in a high school rendition of Vivaldi’s Gloria – for choir* and orchestra – was unforgettable. It left me with the memory of how we can be made so much larger with the beauty of great music.

When I teach the music of Giuliani and Sor, it seems like their own experiences as orchestral musicians have been jotted down in the guitar solos. The pieces seem to be orchestral reductions with changes in texture and register reflecting this knowledge. Giuliani did play cello in the premiere performance of Beethoven’s 8th symphony. Defining these kind of instrumental changes for oneself can enrich our interpretation and give us ownership of a work.

DSCF8011I once asked a student about why an etude was shaped the way it was and he wrote a story to go with it. His interpretation improved enormously. This external context made the music richer and the performance more engaged. There are many ways to make the music bigger than ourselves.

My studies at university were rigorous, including harmony, form, history and conducting. This was a process of assimilation and this earned knowledge is part of my persona. Conducting was especially interesting because aside from the practical issues of getting a group to play together, a conductor must interpret the music. As a soloist we must be both orchestra and conductor.

377299_10152080636195441_1026020940_nAs we learn a piece part of our development is to decrease the physical effort so that we can increase the imaginative work. We must answer several questions: how to assemble phrases to reflect the form in the historical context? How much shape to add to each phrase before we lose the thread? How many note-to-note changes in volume, timbre and articulations will make phrase[s] come alive? Every increase in physical skill must be met with an increase in imaginative sensitivity. One must answer these questions to truly interpret a work.

A chapter in a book** I studied at university was called: Time and the river of rhythm. Ultimately we all want to let the music carry us away with its mighty current. Some days we get to take that ride and I like to think our work is all about getting ourselves out of the way so we can lose ourselves in that river.

*My choir teacher was the marvelous Mary Legge who is still bringing the sublime in music to stuents in Toronto

**The book is Music Of The Whole Earth by David Reck

When Nasrudin was as poor as the fleas in his beard, he needed to beg for his daily bread. He was quite successful and his style was to take only the small coins while rejecting the larger. He was offered such an abundance of choices that he ate well and slept in an inn.

One of his patrons tried to help: “Brother,” he said, “You should take the larger coin, it’s worth more and you will no longer be the village laughing stock.”

Nasrudin whispered: “Thank you for your noble counsel, but so many people come to give me coins only to see how foolish I appear to be.”

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2 Comments
  1. Thanks William

    this is reminding me of when I associated Bach’s fugue 1001 subject entries to each one of my family members and friends to help me with memory, later i found out that the associations were subconsciously connected to the persona of the entry with the persona of the member.

    with Hika I also did the same except the association was with a story line in a forest, it helps me “get in the mood” every time I struggle in getting excited performing the piece

  2. anything we can do to make the music richer and more meaningful is a good idea!

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