January 2011

Decision time-- say good-bye to the classics?

January 30, 2011 12:44

I can no longer procrastinate.  The decision must be made-- this week-- and it will end up a public proclamation of the direction my music will take in the future.  While this direction could be reversed anytime in the future, I suspect, it will not.  It is, therefore, a watershed moment.

The decision?  Which group to continue with on Tuesday nights-- the local symphony or the local old-time jam session.  During our January break from orchestra rehearsals, I ventured out of my element to meet with 6-8 players of:  violin, guitar, mandolin, auto-harp, and, according to rumor, a banjo player, who hasn't yet appeared this year.  I printed off a 2" binder full of  folk songs-- some old-time tunes but many other folk tunes played by the Norwegian-American ancestors of this area.  We take turns picking songs, and I sight-read most of 'em, 'cause I've never heard them before.  The group has fun together, joke with each other, appreciate each other's input, and we learn a bit about chords and styles from our leader.

The other choice is the local amateur symphony playing classical music - a group of highly intelligent people:  a few  students ranging from high school through med/grad school, most middle-aged like me, some who have been with the group for 25 years. The conductor is quite personable, insightful, and the music he picks is a good fit for our talents and abilities. 
There is very little interaction between the players, no one goes out together after rehearsals or even after concerts.  The only time people made a point of talking to me at rehearsal was the night I came in with a  ff chord one beat too soon-  ugh-- the dreaded inadvertent solo.  I now live in fear of repeating that. 

One side of me wants to stick with the classical orchestra. That was how I was raised to play-- the classics.  I'd like to get more classical repertoire under my belt.  It pushes me both technically and mentally.  The other side of me wants to play music for fun.  I don't want to feel fearful every week.  I want to branch out into new musical styles.  I want social interaction in addition to musical interaction.

Why share it here?  I hope that some teachers, some parents, even some students might find it worth reflecting upon.  I ended up with a Suzuki teacher who never strayed from the Suzuki books.  In college as my eyes were opening a bit wider, I tried to take lessons from a fiddler I heard at a concert (he was technically really good), but my performance anxiety got the best of me.
Anyway, to the teachers and students out there--  keep an open mind.  Expose yourself and your students to many different styles of music. Help them see other opportunities. Few students will have a future playing classical music to dwindling crowds in concert halls, so why teach a strictly classical repertoire?  Our orchestra concerts are attended mainly by our spouses and significant others-- maybe 25 - 50 people.

The old-time jam players have played at farmer's markets and various venues with bigger audiences.  The old-time music is not terribly challenging, but is a great start towards bluegrass playing, that can certainly be more technically demanding.  Perhaps next year I can branch into bluegrass and jazz.   Oh- the possibilities!

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