Rognvald wrote: ↑
Tue Dec 05, 2017 10:23 pm
And, when Todd remarks that some performers cannot see beyond the notes, is this not a fault of CG pedagogy today and if not, why is it so prevalent? Why not start beginning students who are still struggling with technique on the road to a personal voice? If not now, then when?
Amen! I'd like to share a couple of stories from my past; I've always been very consistent in having to learn things the hard way, and have learned most of what I know by my own past mistakes.
Early in my undergraduate degree, I entered a concerto competition at my school. I believe I performed one of Carulli's lesser known concerti. I nailed it. No, I mean I REALLY nailed it! I knew that piece like the back of my hand. Further, it was one of those rare points where my nerves didn't overtake me. It was some of my best playing at the time. I also remember there were exactly 13 of us. Over the weekend, I waited in anticipation for the results that would be posted Monday morning. With excitement, the first thing I did that Monday morning was go see the posted results:
There was first place. I didn't get it.
There was second place. I didn't get it.
There was third place. I didn't get it.
There was even fourth place. I didn't get it.
The judges must have had a very difficult time in this competition. There were 13 contestants and 4 prizes awarded. In spite of that, five more students received honorable mention. I wasn't one of them.
Wow. That was a really low blow. I didn't understand what the problem was. I even arrogantly went to one of the judges to ask what the problem was. They were nice. They were generous. They tried to tell me. Because of my asking, they even offered to spend time with me and help me. I didn't understand what they were telling me.
Now, I know EXACTLY what the problem was. I didn't know anything about music.
Yes, that was the punchline. I will repeat: I didn't know anything about music. And what was worse, I didn't know that I didn't know.
This leads me to my next story. One of my most rewarding classes in undergrad was a form and analysis class. "Unfortunately" the theory professor who was supposed to teach the class was on sabbatical. The school got a composer in residence to teach the class the semester I took it. That was where I really learned about music. That jump-started my investigation into interpreting music. And the amazing thing was that the professor rarely talked about and harmonic analysis if ever. He talked about something far grander. We studied a few pieces by Bach, Debussy, Benedetto Marcello, Stravinksky, Brahms, Beethoven, and lots more. I think the average Joe off the street could have walked in that class and understood everything that was being taught. And out of context, a student might make the mistake of thinking the professor was talking about a painting, or perhaps a novel. And comedy. We talked a lot about comedy.
How could I sum that class up in a short paragraph? The class studied the balance of unity and contrast in compositions. The class studied how a composer rations their material, giving the listener the least amount they can get away with managed to "keep the ball in the air." And at just the right time, the listener is surprised.
This one class of mine was a game changer for me. It changed my outlook on music and how I interpreted it. It is hard to explain, but it is as if everything he taught was the glue that holds it all together, yet no one talked about the glue before. It was a revelation. You don't know what you don't know...And I didn't know that I didn't know it. Until that class.
Decades later, I am still inspired by that class. And in my studio, students begin learning interpretation early on. Even in preliminary repertoire students are learning how to play expressively. Of course they are learning about contrast, phrasing, rhythmic and melodic attraction, note grouping, dynamics, etc. While those things are certainly necessary, I show them something FAR more important. I TALK about the piece not unlike that composer in residence decades ago. Gradually, I get students to start learning how to do it on their own.
I think there are a lot of students out there, my former self included, who might understand some of the specifics, they might understand the nuts and bolts. But to step back from the piece and see the whole. To break the piece down in the same way one might break down a novel. To see the foreground. The background. The middle ground. To me, that really gets into the exciting role of interpreter and performer. And perhaps, that is more what I meant when I talked about investigating the composer's intent.
Dr. Todd Tipton, classical guitarist
Cincinnati, OH, USA (available via Skype)