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The Unsolicited Applause

Krista Moyer

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Published: September 2, 2015 at 5:15 PM [UTC]

I made my son clap once. Only one time in my three years of practicing have I made anyone spontaneously break into applause. It was for the first movement of the Vivaldi A minor, which I have now been playing for well over a year. For some reason, no matter how well I know the notes, or remember the dynamics and articulations, it sounds flat when I play it.

As a point of fact, everything sounds flat when I play it. My interpretation of music is like a foreigner’s attempt at a language they have read, but never heard spoken aloud. I can’t pinpoint why that is. It’s not as if I haven’t sought out numerous other performances of the piece, or tried every trick in my limited book to emulate the best of them. The musicality is always the part I simply can’t grasp.

Honestly though, during practice I am practicing. Either it’s drilling a particularly troubling section to get the fingering right, checking bow angles in the mirror, or grappling with getting the rhythm just so. Rarely am I playing with the pure intent of being musical. In fact, that is almost never the point of any of my practice sessions.

The other night I was wrapping up a practice session when my youngest son came down for his goodnight hug. Knowing better than to interrupt before I get to a stopping point, he curled up on the loveseat across from my music stand to wait. Noting he was there, I decided not to concentrate so hard on the technical bits and made the effort to relax and try to have fun with it. Suddenly, something clicked. Everything just seemed so easy and I was playing real music. When I finished, my son jumped up and clapped as hard as he could, then ran to give me a hug. “That was the best song ever!” he exclaimed before running up the stairs.

I haven’t been able to recapture that feeling, but at least now I know that I had it once. If it happened one time, it could happen again.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on September 2, 2015 at 6:33 PM
What a lovely blog! I think you probably learned something when you decided to relax and enjoy it. Your son gave you the feedback that showed the effect of your choice.
From David Rowland
Posted on September 2, 2015 at 11:44 PM
Yes! That's been my experience as well.
From marjory lange
Posted on September 3, 2015 at 2:42 PM
Those "a ha!" moments--wonderful, aren't they?
From John Rokos
Posted on September 4, 2015 at 1:08 AM
How often do you sing the music to yourself?
Posted on September 4, 2015 at 7:46 AM
You made me cry. With joy.
From Krista Moyer
Posted on September 4, 2015 at 1:03 PM

I don't know that I sing the music to myself. Most of my time is spent counting, and thinking about where the bow is supposed to be and what I'm doing to make the sound. There doesn't seem to be much room left over to sing it in my head too. Hopefully one day all the physical actions will require less concentration, and I can work on that.

From Christina C.
Posted on September 4, 2015 at 2:29 PM
Singing is what came to mind for me as well when I read your post. How often do you hear instrumentalists refer to trying to mimic the human voice? Giving some thought to how a line of music would sound if it were being sung makes me more likely to play it with at least some semblance of phrasing- a beginning, an end, some kind of inflection of the line & some hopefully well placed breaths along the way. For me, attention to phrasing goes a long way towards making it musical. This is also something you can (should!) do away from the instrument. Sing your piece in your head & notice how you’re phrasing it so that the next time you play it & have all that attention to technical details sending your brain every which way, some part your brain at least has an idea of how you want it to sound. Give it a whirl!
From Krista Moyer
Posted on September 4, 2015 at 3:03 PM
Thanks, Christina. That is great advice. I'm looking forward to trying that.
From David Fourie
Posted on September 7, 2015 at 11:50 AM
I can relate to this. After reading this post I once decided during a "performance" in my practice session that I should not concentrate on my intonation, bowing and tone production but instead simply on "just sounding as beautiful (and musical) as I can" to quote the thought in my mind at the time. There was an immediate improvement in my intonation, bowing and tone production! I'm not saying this is how to go about practice, sometimes we do need to concentrate on one or more very specific areas however, when it comes to performance this seems to help.
From Raphael Klayman
Posted on September 7, 2015 at 8:32 PM
As far as spontaneous reactions at home while practicing, I drove my dear, departed cat out of my living room more than once. She barely tolerated my playing and especially hated the high notes!
From Krista Moyer
Posted on September 8, 2015 at 2:44 PM

My late cat also hated my violin, and the E string in particular. She always checked to see if my case was closed before she got friendly again. I wonder what cats hear that we don't?

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