Thursday, December 23, 2010

The other night I heard a concert by what must be called a perfect vocal ensemble. It was a kind of sound that is, I am happy to say, becoming increasingly fashionable: a cappella singing by small ensembles of highly individual voices.

My reaction on seeing the program was that it was too short. As the evening progressed, however, my reaction about halfway through the program was that it was too long: too much of the same sound. It was like listening to a CD end-to-end: not something I enjoy doing, but the "going" thing in sound marketing. I craved variation.

When, at the encore, they broke into a modern harmonization of "In the Bleak Midwinter" my reaction was laughter: at last, something fun! It felt like barbershop. Greatly to their credit they did not throw this lovely carol away but delivered it with the simplicity of which it is fully worthy.

I believe that chant is a vehicle for introspection, for reflection. It is not well served by being part of a concert program; the timing of the whole event somehow misses the essential point.

Perhaps deliberately loosening up of the sound for the purely secular numbers would help.
Some children are remarkably sensitive to the differences between their at-home instrument and mine; they invariably do not practice their lesson. I never practiced my lesson, either, when I was young. I played all the time, but not the music I played at my lessons.

Today one of the mothers told me that her daughter works and works on things at home until she gets them right; but they are not the assigned music. "What should I do?"


The child is beginning to grasp the substance of music and how much fun it is to be delivering substance rather than repeating the notes in reliable (i.e. mechanical) sequence. I have no doubt whatsoever that she will soon be ready for substantial repertoire, not to poke at it but to really savor it.

The situation is totally different for children who play the violin or the guitar; they play their own instruments at the lesson.

"The" piano does not exist.