July 5, 2012 at 3:57 PM
“At each concert, music is created anew,
according to a performer’s imagination."
–The Musician’s Way, p. 112
Whenever we perform, we aim for that “in-the-moment” feeling. We strive to immerse ourselves and our listeners in the emotion of the music.
Yet although we aspire to be freely creative on stage, we also need to be consistently accurate.
How can we unite spontaneous creativity with technical security? Here are 4 ways.
1. Practice Spontaneity
If our goal is to perform with spontaneous emotion, we need to emphasize free expression in the practice room.
Still, because practice involves repetition, staleness can easily creep in.
One way to vaccinate against staleness is to playfully vary any repetition.
For instance, after one clean run of solo passage, upon repeating it, we might tweak our tone and timing. In this way, we open ourselves to impromptu insights.
“Always try to find variety,” urged cellist Pablo Casals; “it is the secret of music.” (Casals and the Art of Interpretation, p. 161)
2. Feel Every Phrase
Although heartfelt expression is our goal, in practice, many tasks are head-driven: we analyze problems, test solutions, etc.
The trick is to make the problem-solving process as emotionally vibrant as it is intellectually engaging.
Personally, I bring a living quality to every sound I make, even when I’m unraveling technical snags. In so doing, my technical command serves my expressive notions.
Then, on stage, my practice habits empower me to give myself over to the music.
3. Embrace Possibility
A mind that’s open to expressive possibilities will find creative potential in any music.
For that reason, I ceaselessly look for new ways to shape the music I play. I never stop exploring, so I discover freshness everywhere.
In The Art of Possibility, the authors write that when we forsake this open mindset, we constrict into a sense of scarcity – we stop seeing options and opportunities.
But when we embrace possibility, there’s no limit to what we might come up with.
4. Savor the Moment
Music exists in time - it unfolds in the present and then contracts into the past.
When we savor the temporality of our art, we stop trying to over-control the future and, instead, celebrate each moment, whatever it brings.
This savoring quality is especially crucial when we practice or perform repertoire that we’ve known for ages.
Singer Tony Bennett encapsulated this concept in a 2005 interview. Speaking of his signature song, I Left My Heart in San Francisco, he said, “That song made me a world citizen. And when I do it, it always feels like the first time.”
© 2012 Gerald Klickstein
Last week I recorded at a pub session of English folk music, with a view to later transcription, a tune played by one of my colleagues, whom I'll call 'Chris'. Chris does not read music but has been playing folk music most of his long life. The tune he played was one he had composed himself and had been playing at sessions and festivals for a number of years. It had never been written down, so this was my chance (with his permission, of course). Chris played it through 3 times on his diatonic 2-row button accordion, making little variations each time in rhythm, ornaments and accentuation (you can't do much more on a button accordion), so I had to make a decision which of the 3 'versions' to transcribe. I ended up using bits from each, which is a valid approach in the tradition because the next time that tune is played it will be subtly different yet again.
Speaking about my own approach to spontaneity, I find that when I am practicing the two Paganini Centone sonatas I'm currently working on I naturally insert little ornaments or the like here and there. It works with Paganini (but probably not with Brahms!) and is encouraged by my teacher. The only thing is, I must hold myself in rein when playing in orchestra ;)
I think the broader scope of improvisation should be an integral part of any musician's training. In these modern times improvisation seems to be the preserve of jazz musicians, church organists, and theater actors (for when they forget their lines!).
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