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“…the sound of wind arrives all the way from the stars…” Linda Hogan

October 24, 2016


I am sometimes impressed by how much emphasis players put on fingering a passage a certain way. As if there is only one manner to produce a phrase that will give it the right personality. Keeping a melody on single string is one of those habits, as if the melody lived on the strings, not in the imagination of the player. The performer’s imagination is the most important aspect of playing; it is this imagined sound that triggers the rest of the music making process. This imagined sound needs to contain pitch and rhythm, in addition to timbre, articulation, volume and subtle changes of speed. There is a story I often tell about hearing a guitarist who produced some of the loveliest sounds I had ever heard. When I told him how magnificent his sound was, he showed me his broken nails: every single one had broken while playing a previous work on twelve-string guitar. The conclusion I came to was that the feeling behind the notes was conveyed to the listeners clearly. He had enchanted us in the truest sense of the word.

I have also worked with experienced classical musicians who want to put their imprint on the music: to show the world that they play it thus. At times I find this attitude troubling because I like to think that the music plays me. That there is this wonderful place outside of the everyday where music lives and once in a while we get live it, to ride down that river of rhythm.


photo by Alan Bell

Once, when I was adjudicating a creative music festival I heard a five year old play a very simple piece. It went doh, re, mi, fa, sol, sol, sol, sol, sol, fa mi, re, doh, doh, doh, doh, and repeated. It was the perfect piece for a five year old to compose. In this case the scale up got louder note-by-note and got softer note by note. I asked him if his piano teacher had told him to play that way and he looked at me with suspicious eyes before agreeing that was true. Then I told him to just look out the window, enjoy the view of the river and trees and simply play the piece without thinking. Again, he gave me the suspicious eyes before agreeing to try it my way. This was in a roomful of adults and as he played the piece simply, a collective sigh issued from the listeners. The natural flow of music had been restored – he played in an unaffected manner and we all felt relieved.  The earlier version’s portentous feeling was gone. Sometimes simple is best.

Nasrudin had taken up walking for exercise and had been enjoying his strolls after the evening meal. One time, however he noticed that two bandits were following him. He began to walk quickly and soon came upon a graveyard. He noticed an open grave and lay down in it.

 The two bandits followed him and saw him lying in the pit. They asked him why he was sleeping in an open grave.

 “Well, you see, I died last week but there are so many things that I had left to do, I am now a ghost, and stuck here for a while.”

 Hearing this the bandits began to run far, far away.

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