February 2008

Random thoughts on music and wider education

February 1, 2008 10:18

I've been following the discussions regarding music and a wider education with great interest. I'm only a keen amateur violinist myself but my partner is a professional concert pianist specialising in new music and this is something he has very strong views about.

He was at a music boarding school as a teenager and then decided to read maths at Oxford for his first degree. He continued to play while he was there and after graduation went to Juilliard as a Fulbright scholar. He now combines a professional playing career with a post as a lecturer in musicology (basically the relationship between music, politics and society).

His approach to music is that all soloists should achieve the requisite technique as a given but what makes the difference between a journeyman and a great player is their understanding of interpretation. To think about this properly you really must have a firm grasp of how the music is structured and the ideas which it it trying to convey. It's essential to have at least a good working knowledge of how music has developed historically - not just in technical terms but in relation to how its role in society and the role of composers has changed over the centuries. If you think music does not reflect the ideas and ethos of the society from which it came you are missing out on a lot!

My partner spends a lot of time working with composers on new works and they definitely want an intellectual approach to their music rather than someone who will just bang out the notes.

I don't know whether perhaps (and this is not meant as a criticism) the European approach to music-making is more intellectual and philosophical than the american approach but it astounds me that any intelligent person could think that a high school education equips you with all you need to know (outside of technique) in order to be a great musician.

Of course if you have the right marketable package and a good technique you have a chance of a decent performing career but surely it would be more satisfying to aim for something a bit deeper than that?

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