Thursday, September 24, 2009

What's the music about?

Jonathan West's post on musicality keeps drawing me back because it's so unusual for a high level musician to go into the subject in such depth. Every rereading triggers all sorts of musings about the nature of music making. 

One thing that fascinates me is that he makes a number of wonderful points about how to play with more expression, and how to avoid breaking the spell the music is casting, without going into the nature of the expression or the spell. As he grew up in a musical family making music since early childhood, the reason for making the music seems deep below the verbal, conscious level. What a Mozart rondo is meant to express is simply part of his mental furniture. His post tells how to make pieces of music express their content, but not how to ascertain the nature of that content.

High level players are expected to play any piece put before them well and musically and with whatever spin a conductor wants to put on it. I guess the assumption is that when played coherently and correctly, any piece will convey the content the composer intended.

One of the things our previous band director would do from time to time was to give us a mental image of when, where, and why a piece of music might be played. That was an immense help to me in understanding why he (or the arranger) wanted particular articulations, phrasings, or whatever. For me, without a sense what that particular piece of music was about, all the details were simply that, details. With that explanatory image, the details would fall into meaningful place.

Knowing what a piece of music is about and what you want to convey to an audience by playing it is a key to success. If you're a "natural", then your right brain will probably supply that to you below the verbal level. If you're not a natural, giving thought to this issue will probably help your music making. For me, outside playing the banjo, reflecting a moment on the nature of the music I'm trying to play really helps.

photo - from John & Kate's

No comments:

Post a Comment