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Debra Wade

Am I Playing Notes…or Music?

May 15, 2008 at 6:50 PM

Am I Playing Notes…or Music?

On the streets of Seattle, busking is a common practice by both those with talent and those without.

Not long ago, while wandering around downtown I heard the most incredible rendition of Saint-Saens Rondo and Capriccio being played. After zigzagging through an alley and around a corner I found this musician. I fully expected to see some Seattle Symphony or university type looking for a change of pace, but what I found was a middle-aged man who by all intents and purposes appeared to be homeless. The case on the ground, or what was left of it, was mostly duct taped together and sporting a modest intake of donations. The man himself was dressed in torn jeans and a military type coat, he was clean-shaven but his hair was moderately long. His violin looked rough, but sounded incredible as his fingers danced their way over the strings with an abandon not often seen.

Quite a crowd of adults and children had gathered round to hear him and the silence from the people was impressive as he finished the Saint-Saen. With hardly a pause he launched into what sounded like unaccompanied Bach – after about 10 minutes or so he finished and for the first time since I stopped to listen he opened his eyes and looked at the crowd as they clapped. I was still marveling over the quality of music I had just heard, but what he played next brought a sort of shame to me as I listened. He began playing beautiful versions of children’s songs and variations on simple nursery rhymes for the children who stood around. The children in turn were delighted to hear music they recognized, and the rest of us I think were amazed to hear such beautiful renditions of these simple songs. I had to leave a short time later while he was still playing, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the music he had played.

It is always impressive when a musician skillfully plays any number of the tough repertoire for their instrument. But how many of us, myself included, would not degrade ourselves to present a simple song played with all the musicality required for “great” music. After all, I’ve graduated from Twinkle, Twinkle, and Row, Row Your Boat. That’s easy compared to what I play now…isn’t it?

It seems that the mark of a true musician is one who makes music – simple or complex. Notes are just that. Notes. It is the individual who must find the heart and soul of what they’re playing to turn “notes” into music. I went home that day determined to stop measuring my progress based on the difficulty of my pieces, but rather to ask - am I playing notes or music?

From David Allen
Posted on May 15, 2008 at 9:49 PM
Congartaulaions! Those are the moments we live for as performing artists. May you never be the same!
From Antonello Lofù
Posted on May 15, 2008 at 10:07 PM
I hate dogs
From Debra Wade
Posted on May 15, 2008 at 10:31 PM
Wow! Thanks for letting me know, Antonello... :-)
From Royce Faina
Posted on May 15, 2008 at 10:37 PM
I Love Your Puppy!!!!! I had a Pekingneese (sp?), got her when she was a little puppy! She looked like a baby Ewok on the Star Wars movie!

Great post!

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on May 15, 2008 at 11:48 PM
Geez, Debra kindly puts up my picture and I get accused of being a dog.
Clearly the Italian contingent needs more prunes in the solid rather than liqud form,
From Anne Horvath
Posted on May 16, 2008 at 1:02 AM
There is a new book out by Steve Lopez, called "The Soloist: A Lost Dream, An Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music". I haven't read it yet, but it sounds interesting. Lopez writes about a homeless violinist on the streets of LA.

I hope the busker you heard got some $$$ in the case!

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on May 16, 2008 at 1:59 AM
I suspect and hope the part that goes "myself included, would not degrade ourselves to present a simple song" isn't exactly what you're really thinking in regard to this.

A few minutes ago I was talking to someone who slipped out of a writing workshop and was talking about what was going on in there. She said about the other writers, first they need to learn to think, then they can write something worthwhile. I think it's the same with music. People with certain kinds thoughts about music, and because of those thoughts why would anyone want to hear them, you know? The experience you had was of the guy's good thinking, I think I would say.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on May 16, 2008 at 2:57 AM
I can't believe no one has commented what a WONDERFUL story this is, and so well-presented. I really, really didn't have the time to read a blog right now, but I was so sucked in. It's like you made your words do precisely what the guy did with his violin and the music.

Bravo to both. And thanks for sharing.

From Royce Faina
Posted on May 16, 2008 at 3:36 AM
David gave a congradulations, I wrote great post! Terez, now I wish I said more but then again I think I've opened my mouth too much here at again. (Sigh) Yep, will think before writting... good point from Jim's friend. :)

It is a Wonderful story, thanx for sharing it Debra! :)

From Terez Mertes
Posted on May 16, 2008 at 4:12 PM
You did say "great post," Royce. My apologies - I only saw the puppy bit. And David did say congratulations. Actually, he said "Congartaulaions" - he must be taking spelling lessons from Buri. (Advance apologies to David, now, if my caustic wit has caused offense.)
From Debra Wade
Posted on May 16, 2008 at 4:17 PM
Royce, how funny you would say that about your dog. My “boy” definitely looks like an Ewok – so cute! When I first got him I couldn’t decide between “Chewy” (sp?) from Star Wars or Chubby because of his voracious appetite. Chubby won – and I think that name is only cute because he’s not chubby… :-)

Jim – my use of the word “degrade” mightn't have been the best choice. In my mind I was just thinking of the times I’m handed a new solo, and my first thought is where it rates on the difficulty scale compared to my peers. When really my first thought should be, how can I interpret this to best advantage or how to turn it into beautiful music.

But your friend had a point – once our thinking is changed our music will change as well.

Ooooh…the more I think about that the more I like it!

From Royce Faina
Posted on May 16, 2008 at 5:02 PM
Terez- No Offence taken. :) Boy do I boo boo on these posts!

with my Peek I named her Me' Jita (May Hee-Tah) Spanish for my little girl.

From Drew Lecher
Posted on May 17, 2008 at 5:41 AM

Wonderful, wonderful story and great writing. Thanks for sharing.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on May 17, 2008 at 7:35 AM
That's a beautiful story, and you told it beautifully.

There is certainly a big difference between playing notes and playing music. Technically easy pieces are sometimes fertile ground for artistry. The Anna Magdalena Book, written by JS Bach as lessons for his offspring who were studying music, is a good example. I've got recordings of it by E. Power Biggs on organ, Andres Segovia on guitar, and other top musicians.

I wish I would encounter a busker like yours.

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