Friday, September 19, 2014

A Blog Reader Has Made My Day - Thank you!

A faithful reader of this blog did me and it a tremendous service this morning by sending me an email with a question about a Mozart string quartet. 

Many subjects ran concurrently in the question: Why hate Mozart?  Are you worth listening to?  And more, which I try to elucidate, though that is not simple.

The reader is a lifelong aficionado of chamber music and plays both violin and viola extremely well.  Wherever she goes - and she has traveled and lived, it is safe to say, both far and wide - she has brought her instruments with her and disseminated her love of playing music with people of all ages and descriptions.  It would be impossible to pay her greater tribute. 

Now she asks whether some of the musical references she suspects are lurking within the Mozart A major quartet are really there.  If she finds them then they are surely there.  She would like me to back her up in this.  But I, for sure, will not find them by looking at the score, for they can be found only by listening.  I do not know how to read that way, having realized that such spontaneous in-depth listening is not accessible to me by reading the notes.

My suggestion to her has to do with making her colleagues listen as she brings out the references she detects.  Perhaps they exist in her part only: Mozart famously played any one of the three upper voices in his quartets, so he was liable to hide anything at all in any one of them.  You may be sure that whichever part he played his fellow quarteters would be paying attention to his articulations, to his pronunciation of this or that phrase.  He would surely have played so that they had little choice but to pay attention. 

These are the very things that, unrecognized, are glossed over by "correct" interpretations, in which homogeneity rules, rather than playful interchange between parts whose proper enunciation require four passionate personalities, inviting, commanding one another's attention.

Are You Worth Being Listened To?

It is usually with some embarrassment that people tell me, as many do, that they "took piano lessons for a while."  What is the source of their embarrassment?  Impossible to tell, for sure.  But I have the feeling that some, if not most of that emotion comes from their recalled feelings of combined inadequacy and non-comprehension.

Inadequacy is the main lesson taught by the teacher's constant insistence that every note be correct and played on time:  This impossible and meaningless standard will certainly foster feelings of inadequacy on the part of the student, particularly if gifted or intelligent.

Non-comprehension is fostered by the lack of vocabulary in which to frame questions, and there are many questions.  Why do I have to practice such boring music?  Are technical exercises really that important when I hate them so much?  How can Mozart be so famous when I find nothing of interest in this sonata?

In teaching/learning situations like those I evoke above, the one thing the teacher is not doing is listening to you.  If the teacher heard your boredom the teacher would surely address it, enlighten your ear and your mind, teach you about the wonders of the hand and fingers, reveal how much more there is to music than what is printed on the page.

But teachers are not encouraged to listen to what you bring to your playing.  They know how to listen for the finished product and when that is not there they know how to make you feel inadequate.

Everyone's loss.