January 16, 2009 at 4:43 AM
Buri, very interesting and difficult issue of music interpretation or interpretation in general indeed! There seems to be a spectrum of school of thoughts/approaches. At one extreme, you try to understand and follow everything literally: what the score meant by this particular composer at that time/stage of his/her composition. The amount of work required to find the truth can be quite daunting if not a life-time effort in some cases. At the other extreme, as though everything goes because once the work is done it has the life of its own (a ‘living tree’ as some judge described the Canadian Constitution) and it is forever open for different interpretations and reinterpretations, generation after generation.
Personally, I think when we start to learn any trade, be it music, literature, history, or philosophy, the basic discipline of exploring the literal meaning of each piece of work is absolutely essential part of the good foundation-building. But the sad thing is that often people get very good at literal interpretation and feel that this is all what interpretation of music/literature/philosophy is all about. To me this kind of rigidity is very troubling. For one thing, it is so in odd with traditional Chinese calligraphy or painting, namely, you need to constantly do something to destroy what is seemingly so completed/balanced/finished to the point of staleness; you destroy this comfor so you an create artwork that, as it were, the Qi is flowing in the piece.
The “living tree” approach has a lot merits. Doing well, we breathe life into the music. It can be the greatest way to honour the composers. I’m always amazed how many wonderful ways people have interrelated Bach S&Ps: Enescu, Szigeti, Milstein, Szerying, Hahn, Podger, Apap... just to name a few. But I have to say, it takes a lot of guts and skills to go beyond what’s written on the score because if it is done poorly, I’m not just a poor violinist, I’m also a whack job.
If, though, my observations are correct..... I see more and more students over using and abusing, "I'm Intitled to blah, blah, blah and or self exspression. I am to do my own thing and exspect to be rewarded / awarded for it, I am intitled too, nothing is absolutely wrong except your opinion." Not all students, but it seems to be growing.
Regarding Trees- Detatch it from it's roots... It'll get sick, it'll fall over, and what does it try to do, shoot more roots to get a hold, to get life.
Very interesting question you raised Buri....I often sit a night pondering it.
In my field (medicine), there are broadly two groups of people: those who make good surgeons and those who make good doctors. Surgery is all about doing exactly what you've done a zillion times before and doing it exactly the same way every time. They spend several days teaching new students how to hold scissors properly...
I've long said that people who think like surgeons are naturals for "classical music." We think of classical music as something already perfectly defined; it's all written down with little marks for exactly how to play each note, how things are supposed to feel, tempi, etc. On the other end of the spectrum would be jazz, which is often passed down through just Fake Books which list nothing other than the chord progression. Obviously, perfectionists in the "classical music" mode have a hard time dealing with jazz, which seems too undefined, and vice-versa, where jazz musicians (and apparently Royce's students!) feel that "the repertoire" is too restrictive.
It's really a matter of one's musical tastes. I never went into surgery because it's not fluid enough for me. And I like jazz and celtic fiddle, etc; music which feels like it's still "alive". I've heard some beautiful "classical" performances, but I think the sense that it's all been done perfectly already (and we're doing our best to imitate that "perfect" version) really takes the life out of it, for me. I suspect that in some students, at least, that contributes to the idea that this music is "dead" and a particular piece has nothing left to say.
I'm not sure how to change that. I can only say that if Beethoven and Brahms et. al. were only re-playing the "canon" of music that existed at their times, they would never have written anything new. For me, the only way for music to be alive in our lives is for us all to feel what the music brings to us, and to share that with others. For me, that can't happen in trying to "display" someone else's feelings. But the world needs "surgery people" who think that way; I'm just not one of them. For those of you who do operate that way: does hearing some piece done "perfectly" make you feel connected to it? Does it bother you when there are "mistakes?"
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