Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Memory and familiarity are both complex forces at work in our consciousness of music. Playing from memory is important in traditional pedagogy, though I find it not at all clear that it improves anyone's playing, except those whose memorization is so integrated with auditory concentration that it never becomes a distraction.

Distraction renders memory meaningless or maybe even harmful. All kinds of things can become distractions: A muscle spasm can destroy continuity. Children playing from memory become aware of a resonance they had not previously noticed -- this happens mostly when playing in recitals on grand pianos with the lid up after having practiced on upright, muted and probably out-of-tune. A sudden rush of rich sound can turn the piano into a veritable mad dog. How do you just keep going?

Familiarity, too, has its downside. Humming the opening of Beethoven's Fifth does not mean we get it.

Maybe it would be better to focus on getting our bearings independent of a framework that assumes mindlessness to be a good idea.