Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I'm struggling with the idea of effort.

I WANT to work out and get healthy.  But I'm realistic and know that unless I actually work up a sweat, it's not going to make much of a difference.  I will keep doing the bits and pieces I'm doing, but I need to really find a way to put some effort in.

A few weeks ago, I went through a teaching trend where I wanted to show my students what real effort was.  So we would choose a new piece for them and I'd work them through a section of it with the intensity and thoroughness that _I_ would use if I had to play it on a concert that weekend.

For instance,
a little Aria from the Baroque.

Looked it over for form.  Looked at the markings, the patterns.  Marked in what I like to call "invisibles," which are (example) whole steps that are in the middle of a bunch of chromatics, or recurring accidentals that would be easy to miss.  Or rhythms that resemble previous ones, but aren't the same.  Figured out the key, and identified likely modulations (to the relative minor, to neighbor keys, etc.).
ALL OF THIS was before we even picked up the flutes.

Worked through some of the tough rhythmic spots while counting aloud and fingering but not playing.  Examined difficult spots for possible alternate fingerings, etc.

Played slowly, no ornaments.  Played phrase at a time.  Looked for target notes, looked for melodic lines within the busy stuff.

Played again, but with ornaments.  Dissected the ornaments once I played them, deciding if I did them right, and if they sounded graceful or did I need to change something.  Played again, but with different approaches -- just to be sure I liked my final choice.

Then played again, arching the phrase, choosing dynamic levels, vibrato, colors, nuance.

That was all for ONE small section. 

Then I'd stop and look at the kid and say, "Lot of work, right?"
They'd emphatically agree.  They would usually say, "Why didn't you just play it?"

And then I'd say, "because then I'd be a complete amateur."

I'd briefly explain that there's a reason I sound so good when I play.  It's the hours of intense preparation, thought, decision making, and experimentation that I have done in over 30 years of playing.  That's why SO many people who play instruments are NOT excellent musicians.  THey play.  That's fine.  But do they put in the EFFORT NECESSARY to really pull off performance after performance?

I remind them that EFFORT makes the difference.  Not winging it.  Not "going by instinct," although that's certainly an element.  No.  It's thoughtful, "on your own" preparation that does it.

And they are aghast.  They think that being a musician is just Playing.  I hope they understand that what I'm trying to show them is that even without magical inspiration, music is awesome.  You make it awesome.  It's not magic. It's not!  And it's NOT easy.  Not a bit.  It's DAMNED HARD.

Which makes it wonderful.

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