Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rules? Models? Competition?

A few years ago I had an interesting email exchange with a well-known music theorist who has taken an interest in disability.  Replying to his questioning why I was interested in it my answer was that disability has alerted us to the extent to which conformity distracts from real learning by reducing singular works by singular individuals to a set of rules and procedures.

What does it take to direct a person's attention to the source? To get a child to feel confident that music is an inter-personal communication, not something objectified, standardized?

It takes attentiveness to and support of the child's ear.

Sounds simple.  Takes time.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Models or the Real Thing?

Already as a very young girl I had an awareness of "the real thing."  An interesting notion: That an unschooled child could have a notion of what that might be.

The plastic toy that looked like a sailboat but which, contrary to my excited expectations, sank was clearly not it.  The neighbor's spinet with no model attached either in print or in the person of a piano player was the real thing and has remained so for my entire life.

It was me and that sound with no intermediary.

When, then, specific sounds composed by someone who had lived 200 years earlier awoke in me a recognition that we were reacting to the same thing I knew it was real.

Lessons, classes, required recitals, had, for the most part nothing to do with it.  They conveyed rules, models, competition, categorical judgments--all beside the point.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

An Endlessly Interesting Vocal Improv

This was one listener's reaction to the Mozart A minor Rondo that I played yesterday -- not just a listener, but a professional pianist, chamber musician, and vocal accompanist.  It might well be assumed that she knows what that means.  It came out quite differently yesterday than a few days before, who knows why.

In retrospect (and I have not yet seen the video that I had made of it - something I do only rarely) I suspect it had to do with paying more attention to the short note values this time.  It was not something I did "on purpose," but something that happens more and more as I get interested in the ephemeral aspect of all live music.

I noticed something concretely different at the very end when the long note values took on special meaning.  Where might they have come from if not from the need for them?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Mozart Rondo in A Minor: A Piece I Cannot Practice

Mozart may be the most difficult of all composers in that it is so easy to make his music sound perfect, pretty, predictable -- in other words, utterly beside any meaningful point.

This week I am performing a work that has utterly mystified me for most of my adult life.  The A Minor Rondo, K. 511 is so dramatic that it cannot be pinned down to a particular moment as the right one, or to a particular reading as definitive.  It has to be recreated afresh every time it is played. Perhaps that is the reason for it's being in the first place:  in a rondo the material "repeats" so often it has to be dealt with as new every time.

This is harder than anything one is trained to expect from music of any period, least of all the 18th century.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Playing for First-time Listeners

One of the greatest pleasures a musician can enjoy is knowing that there are entirely fresh ears among the audience.  Last night I enjoyed the presence of two such.  Young adults, neither of whom listen to what we call classical music and certainly not live.  I knew they were coming but did not make the program with them in mind.

The program included two of the most serious late works I know of, both by Mozart: the A minor Rondo, K 511, and the Adagio in B minor, K. 504, composed in 1787-88.  Whereas I might have expected them to fidget, they did not.  These pieces were interspersed with contrasting pieces, mostly dances or dance-like (except for a couple of Bach Fugues) so there was ample occasion to relax into slightly more familiar modes of music.

One of the new listeners is a dancer whom I met at the swimming pool.  I have been exploring musical expression of the Martha Graham gesture of straining the head and arms forward while pulling back with the solar plexus.  Sure enough, the gesture was heard and described in great detail. I would not be surprised if the combination of a first-time listener and dancer made it come to life.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

"Whatever You Are Feeling Is Fine"

The above quote is from a review of Taylor Mac's new show on the history of popular music in America.  Taylor Mac is unequivocally brilliant.

I would say that this sentiment -- including every response as appropriate and welcome -- should be up in neon lights at the front of every concert room large and small, and in every art museum, large and small, and perhaps also on the cover of every work of fiction or poetry.

We have too much steeped in appropriate-ness as if there were such a thing for us constantly changing creatures in a constantly changing world.

Friday, January 23, 2015

What is Happening to Tone?

I found it virtually impossible to write critiques of live performances and CDs for The New Music Connoisseur, not that I didn't have things to say.  But what I ended up critiquing was too complex to convey within the allotted space:  To sum up the dilemma: I could talk about the music itself, insofar as it is possible to do so without actually having played it myself; I could talk about the performance, a lot easier, since performing is my "thing," or, as happened more and more, I could address awareness of how hard it is to make a living sticking one's neck into the music business and how I did not want to discourage anyone from doing so.

Now emerges another level of concern that is too deep for 300 words or less, and at which I can only hint here.  There is less and less concern with inhabited sound.  It is rare these days to feel so grabbed by a sound that I do not forget it.  More likely I hear sounds that seem to have been filtered through what? Hard to say: through awareness of perfection, perhaps.

At last week's CMA conference I had a conversation in which a coach was describing the dilemma posed by working with a saxophone quartet who were to perform a string quartet:  How to deal with the musical questions raised?  These are compelling questions of the sort that have fascinated me for years.  The next day I heard that saxophone quartet playing what turned out not to have been a string quartet at all, but a piece for viola overdubbed with other viola lines ( faux viola quartet ? ).  There is no way to penetrate sound qualities from such a source.

I know because I was once in a situation where I was expected to take a cello line from a CD and reproduce it on the piano.  I actually could not hear the line unless I put on a headset while at the piano seeking out the "tones."  It turned out the line had been dubbed onto the track; there was no shared resonance with the accompaniment.  This rendered it, according to my definitions, unhearable.

Tone is more than pitch.  Have we lost it?