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Two musical schools of thought in any genre

Posted by on in Thoughts About Music
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Music making (and listening) can take two vastly different directions. Which one do you tend to prefer?

One way that is taught and listened for is to play the notes very clearly and consistently and beautifully. (Beautifully, that is, if it's what the genre calls for --- there are exceptions, of course!) If your instrument has vibrato or tremolo, as the flute does, this view calls for a very steady vibrato coupled with an even tone. There is a strong emphasis on the integrity of the melody, and accompaniment may be considered a sort of "wallpaper" for the featured lead instrument. Any ornamentation is to be carefully planned and incorporated.

Notice that I said "play the notes" --- a clue that that isn't my approach --- because the second school of thought is not to "play notes" but to play music! This second view takes a melody and its accompaniment and attempts to reach into the heart of the music behind it, personalizing it and unifying it into a perhaps passionate outpouring that involves countless variations of detail in volume, tone, vibrato, speed, ornamentation --- with the intended result of making it somewhat spontaneous and larger than life and having it move the souls of players and listeners alike.  Each performance of the same piece may seem to be a whole new experience of the music.

Really, it's not even "playing an instrument," this other approach: it's using the instrument to play music!

I would hasten to add that I'm not just advocating self-indulgence, merely using the music to promote or satisfy yourself or the listener; there can (and should) be full respect for the source of the music, hence the careful wording I used above: "reaching into the heart of the music..." and "using the instrument to play music" --- in a sense making yourself a living extension of the original intent of the composer, as an alternative to merely reconstituting the music as exactly as possible (if that is even possible). Two of my favorite Classical musicians were perfect examples of this idea: George Szell and Rudolf Serkin. Serkin even went so far as to say at the height of his fame as a pianist that he didn't even care much for the piano, or himself as a musician, but that he was just trying to get the piano to bring the music as perfectly as possible out into the air! And, surprise, the personal power in his and Szell's playing are great --- not self-serving but tapping into the ultimate meanings more thoroughly.

There actually is a strong element of risk in this approach, since it calls for moment-by-moment personal judgments to be made --- somewhat scary at times, and sometimes causing imperfections from "dwelling at the edge" --- yet music can truly come alive because of this risk!

Two different tastes of Heaven! Consider which you find to be your own mode of expression and interpretation!

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  • Ann Robinson Thursday, 11 April 2013

    Yes, I have many different instruments.... hammered dulcimer, Celtic harp, bowed dulcimer, mandolin, and now my lessons with Celtic fiddle. I do have to say that each instrument - while I may not be as proficient as if I had stuck with just one to master - has offered a whole new group of WONDERFUL musicians and friends with whom I've had the privilege and JOY to get to know. Each genre has provided me with a new perspective into technique and approaching each instrument in a new and exciting way. Sometimes, I wonder how I'd be if I had stuck to just hammered dulcimer, my first instrument. (I thank Timothy for those experiences.) I might even be an exceptional player. But then, something would have been lost in the many friendships I've developed with each new instrument I've picked up. Travels, friends, and the journey has made them all worthwhile.

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