Friday, October 31, 2014

"Time Regained"

This is the title of Book VII of Proust's masterwork, In Search of Lost Time in its more recent translation.  Because that work has been seminal in shaping my life and my work I go back from time to time to refresh my relationship to it.

Tonal Refraction, my work on visualizing subjective aspects of tone perception, is named for Proust's use of the word "refraction," to refer to what happens to sensory memory as it is altered by the many subconscious forces that make us who we are.  Are they distortions or are they rather evidence of life as defined by constant change?  Who is to say?

I am looking specifically for references to the hidden dimension of time that is so real to people with sensitive perception systems: the dimension that goes by so rapidly and yet seems so intensely enlarged as it is happening: the nanoseconds during which musicians adjust their tuning, their timing, their orientation to everything past and present even while producing sound: the quality that can keep you on the edge of your chair.
Probably the kind of time to which Goethe was referring in his great line about time: "Verweile, doch, du bist so schoen."  (Rough translation: Please stay with me, you are so beautiful.)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Live - Better than Perfect

The mark of a truly live performer is that you, the audience, are made to feel like part of the act, an integral part, in fact.  Without you, the listener, the performer cannot exist.  Without you, the listener, the art is simply technique.

Transformed by being listened to technique becomes the vehicle of interpersonal exchange, always two-way, never repeated, always new.

Please support live performance.

Learn to distinguish between truly live performance and rehash of recorded perfection - a new genre.  One for which conservatories are now granting degrees, it seems.
You learn the difference by going to hear live music often and in different settings.  Start with your local music school: the students need people in the seats and it is good practice for all concerned.  With a little practice on your end you may soon figure out when it is time to stand up and boo.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Handel Festival Orchestra and Thomas Elefant

It was a rare treat to hear this extraordinary group of professional and amateur musicians perform Handel's Concerto Grosso, Op. 6 No. 6, and Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto last night at St. Peter's Church in New York City.

The orchestra plays expertly under the demanding leadership of Mr. Elefant, founder of the organization.  The truly amazing aspect of his high standards, however, is the constant tapping of real energetic musicianship from everyone in the orchestra ranging from profound introspection to riotous glee, all under control while feeling free as flight.

The players are excellent: intonation is wonderful without being too simple minded.

The soloist for the Beethoven was a last-minute sub, Pedja Muzijevic, who gave the best performance of the work I have ever heard, perhaps in part because it was not a full-size symphony orchestra weighing it down; perhaps because of the setting, which had the audience close enough to be drawn into the music.  Muzijevic is a virtuoso start to finish, yet far more than that: the second movement was radiant.

And everyone showed such wonderful good spirit through the whole thing: conductor and soloist even collaborating in moving the piano!  How many times have I seen that? 

Bravo! And thank you.

More on Dimensions of Time

A chat this morning with an elementary school teacher revealed something quite unexpected: apparently children who regularly attend services in a church, mosque, or synagogue pay better attention in the classroom than those who do not -- and we are talking about a South Bronx public school classroom.

This reveals something about the nature of attention:  I think it thrives on variation.  If a stimulus bombards the brain always at the same unrelenting rate of speed it merely succeeds in turning the brain off.  I would not be in the least surprised but that it was this aspect of the media that most got to me when as a child I simply couldn't stand television.  Not that I was an ideal kid who moved easily from one rate of stimulation to another: I craved speed.  Never fast enough, seemed to be my mantra.

Now I recognize the danger inherent in that kind of superficial emphasis on rapidity.  Slow down.  I work on slowing kids down, using a metronome to tease them into being aware of how fast or slowly they actually can move without losing concentration.

It's a critical skill, not just in music.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Why Not to Video Everything

The lens is a stoplife invention. 

I was brought up in the household of an amateur photographer.  We were constantly being photographed and that was back in the day when that was a big deal, involving film and gadgets and lights and then tying up the bathtub for developing....

At the time I hated having to pose: best behavior was not my favorite mode and there was no other deemed appropriate for the purpose.

Just a couple of weeks ago while playing at a sort of public private party I was shocked at experiencing a rather surprising turn of mind and heart right in the middle of the music.  The moment has haunted me since, without exaggeration.  When, the other evening, I was handed a video of the event I was horrified. 

Had I known it was to be taped would I have allowed that moment to occur? 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Stop Counting

Counting is very much overrated as a tool for learning rhythm.  There are many more reliable and far more life-filled models for regularity, symmetry, sequence, variation--all the things that are more rightly associated with rhythm than numbers.  Let's leave the numbers for arithmetic.

Think instead of clapping patterns:  A good game of Simon Says involving imitation of simple clapping patterns is more fun and potentially far more engaging than any amount of getting from 1 to 4 on time.

Or of moving an object, like a bow or a baton, to conduct a song or express a mood.

My best trick was getting children to draw shapes with both hands at the same time moving in contrary motion on a large sheet of paper.  This is fun, and it is funny.

The hardest thing about beats is that they are too powerful in relation to tone quality.  A child who is sensitive to tone quality cannot objectify time without losing contact with that more important, more elusive, and more deeply personal aspect of hearing.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Like Playing the Guitar

That's how my student described the level she has finally achieved, after many, many years of seeking precisely this, the way she now plays the piano.  It is no longer like dealing with a machine that's out there.  It's much closer to home, much more in control in the best way.

How unusual that an accomplished adult will allow herself to cross that barrier and get to the heart of the matter, which is where she always wanted to be and was never given a clue how to get there.

I asked her what had enabled her to achieve this.  It was a combination of things, she said, among them, watching me play.

That is the best way to learn to play an instrument.  Observe closely someone whose playing you admire.  Without analyzing what she is doing simply go home and pretend that she is inhabiting your body and it is she, not you, playing your instrument.

That is how I learned to play the piano:  Two pianists I have to thank for that:  Artur Rubinstein and Mieczyslaw Horszowski.