Thursday, November 27, 2014

Klezmer Ear

An active klezmer musician has been coming regularly to hear my Mixed Bag experiments, where I play recitals without printed programs to encourage just listening, rather than listening always inside boxes of expectation and prejudice.

I find myself wondering whether what she hears has any influence at all on her music-making.  Does anything carry over from my approach to, say, rhythm?  It could.  After all, these are basically ways of transmitting elan vital, more than adhering to conventions within any given style or tradition.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Internal Rhythm

There has to be such a thing.  People talk authoritatively about the connection of musical rhythm to the body:  I have long had problems with that one, since it is impossible to generalize about bodily anything.  As a child I was very aware of that: I simply could not do as other children seemed to do so effortlessly:  throw a ball, move in sync with others, coordinate my movements within a team sport.

I insist that there is a different source of bodily rhythm, faster, more reliable.  That is the rhythm of hearing itself.  I notice in my students of all ages that this rhythm seems to be the most lively to them; certainly inhabiting music at that level gives them maximum range of choices as to how to coordinate their bodies with the sounds to which they respond.

Why aren't more people interested in that level of activity?  Is it already obsolete?  Has the species already evolved to a place where that level of activity has been diminished? 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Consonance and Dissonance

Actually, it's back to the subject of disability: Getting children to conform is dependent, as far as I can tell, on getting all the consonances to be predictable and, if that can't be managed, to line up neutral beats so that no definitions are subject to challenge.  (As I reread that statement I realize that I wrote it in relation to music, but it might as easily apply to life in general.)

My severely challenged student who last week slowed himself down to achieve a bi-lateral coordination, yesterday did something even more difficult by producing the same coordination with the left hand playing the "same" pattern but in two different keys, thus completely upsetting whatever arrangement of consonance and dissonance he had become accustomed to in the first tonality.

He could do it.  Every musician knows how hard this is.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Perception and Sound Have Become One

A listener commented on the Mixed Bag program the other evening, remarking on my persistence in pursuing the sounds of the music.

Interesting way of putting it.  I no longer feel that the sounds are external to myself, but are rather inseparable from my perception of them.  I live inside of them when I play and hope that my audience joins me there.

Everything in our culture conspires to maintain a distance between you and the sounds you respond to.  Think about it.  The halls are too big, the recording techniques too refining, the playback systems overly involved in equalizing volume and timbre.  What is left for you to respond to, except perhaps some vague memory of having heard it before?  And how exciting is that?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Handel vs. Bach on the Piano

Handel works on the modern piano much better than Bach.  The reason is simple: Bach's keyboard works do not sound well with equal temperament whereas Handel's, for some reason, do.  It would require a much more detailed analysis than I have time to bring to this issue.

I know it because, as a child (my best authority on all subjects) I had nightmares because I could not "locate" the A of Bach's A minor English Suite, a piece I loved and played a lot.  It took me most of a lifetime to figure out that that was the reason: His A does not resonate properly on the modern piano.

It is at this level that sound is most urgent.  It is not in the least a matter of theory. 

Well might you then ask why do so many pianists perform Bach?

A good question and not easy to answer.  If you pay attention to the physicality of the sound when pianists play Bach it is striking to me that some play as though the music consisted only a procedures, not at all of sounds: Glenn Gould comes to mind.  Others play Bach with real feeling for the sounds.

I almost did not go to hear Piotr Anderszewski play an all-Bach program, fearful of what I might not like.  But I was glad I did and I will not soon forget his sensitive readings especially in D minor, a particular pregnant key on the modern piano.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Handel on the Piano

Last night's Mixed Bag performance included a knockout Suite in D minor (No. 3) by Handel.  The penultimate work on the unannounced program, it was the piece that elicited audible gasps from the listeners.  Every time I play it I say out loud what a tremendous work it is.

What makes it so great?  It is completely unpredictable: no matter how many times I play it I am surprised at its whimsy, its subtle turns of line from rhythmic to lyric, its sense of foreboding alternating with exuberant virtuosity.  The level of variation built into this work is amazing, and none of it lost on the listener.

The other composers that evening were C P E Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.  We know, and you can tell from their music in case you didn't know it in advance, that both Beethoven and Brahms were heavily influenced by Handel.  You can hear those same attributes in their works, whether long or short.  C P E is more complicated to define in terms of influence.  He definitely had a mind of his own, whether influenced by anyone in particular I cannot say.  But the same properties, whimsy, variation, profound vocalism are all there. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Do YouHave It In You?

We live in a peculiar culture: so much is made of private enterprise, of the self-made person, of individuality.  Yet every day the media are star-studded, as if the real point is not the individual but the star -- not at all the same thing.

The belief is early instilled into young children that their "job" is to compete, not to develop.  As I write that sentence I am struck by the motivation behind that approach to child rearing: For one thing, it assures that your child will not surpass you.  Heaven forbid.

My children have both, each in her/his own way, surpassed me.  I learn from them.  They have picked up things I would never have noticed.

Is it because parents and teachers are afraid they might have to bend down and actually learn something from someone younger than themselves that so many of them persist in passing on this madness?