May 2010

An Evening Well Spent

May 24, 2010 11:01

    Every once in a while we are treated to something quite outside the boundaries of our normal lives.  Last night was certainly such an occasion for me.

The venue was the home next door.  The event was a little gathering to celebrate the culmination of the Spring session of an acting studio in which my dear neighbors participate.

Now Candice and Bob are really quite a remarkable couple.  Their energy seems boundless, and their interests are so eclectic and wide ranging as to boggle the mind.

Yet even knowing this, I was quite blown away by what transpired.

For the first hour and a half or so it was the normal party routine; food and chit-chat.

Then, quite out of the blue, somebody up and exclaims, ‘quite on the set, quite on the set!’ and the conversation dries up like spit in the desert. 

We’re lead to focus our attention on the end of the dining room table and the entertainment begins.

 A budding actor is introduced, we’re given a brief setup – he’s going to do a comedic improvisation of a TV Evangelist minister in prayer – and away he goes.

And it was good, very good.

This is quickly followed by another young man doing a soliloquy from a serious film – can’t remember which film it was taken from – in which he is making a heart-wrenching appeal to a woman about to walk out on him.

After two or three more of these ‘scenes’ my hosts turn in my direction and say, ‘Clayton, would you please go next door and get your violin?  I know these folks would love to hear something from you.’

Funny thing is I’d had a thought this might come up whilst practicing earlier in the day.  So I wasn’t completely taken off guard.

My contributions to the very lively salon in progress were portions of Saint-Saens’ ‘Rondo Capriccioso’, and ‘Zapateado’, of Pablo de Sarasate; both unaccompanied, of course.

And I’m happy to report that, in spite the stiffness of my left hand, I was sufficiently inspired to make quite a little performance of them.

I was followed by a woman reading poetry.

And so it went, long after I was forced to depart to take my dog out for his evening stroll and potty-break.

You know, the artists ‘salons’ of the 19th century were legendary.  Regrettably it seems that modern life, with its overabundance of ‘canned’ entertainment, has all but driven these soul-nourishing gatherings to the verge of extinction.

Last night I made a vow to begin a local ‘breeding program’ to keep that from happening.  And I certainly encourage you, too, to bring friends and loved ones together in a way that keeps the tradition alive in your neck of the woods as well.

I think we all deserve an abundant, interesting life.

All the best,

Clayton Haslop

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What My Daughter Had to Say About Nerves

May 19, 2010 11:44

    Tonight is a pretty big night for Clara, my soon to be 8-year-old daughter.  At 6:30 she and her classmates will take the stage at Desert Star School in Cornville Arizona to perform a play based on the life of Santa Lucia.

And you-know-who will play the part of Santa Lucia.

She doesn’t have any spoken lines, though.  The closest she will get to that is singing a song with two other kids whilst standing front and center stage before the audience.

Yesterday the classes at the school performed their plays for each other, as a dress rehearsal for tonight.

Yet this was enough to get the butterflies fluttering in her little tummy. 

Funny, not knowing the word ‘nervous’, she described what she felt on stage as ‘feeling embarrassed’. 

On second thought, however, maybe this isn’t such a funny way of expressing it.

After all, many of us pass judgment on ourselves before we’ve played a note in performance, so the feeling of embarrassment may indeed be the substance of our nerves.

Anyway, I asked her what she did, if anything, that helped the feeling of ‘embarrassment’ pass.  She thought for a moment, and said, ‘I thought about what I needed to do.’

I think she hit the nail on the head there.

After all, what else ARE we to do? 

When it’s all said and done, the best thing you can do for nerves is to fill your mind with intentions of just exactly what you are going to do at specific points in time.

Remember, performances take place over time; and thank goodness for that.  If we had to hold in our immediate consciousness every single intention – and there could be hundreds in the course of a concerto – that goes into a successful performance, we’d be completely overwhelmed.

The trick is to have them on a time line, where one flows right into the next; it’s like having a rail for your performance to roll on.

The point of practice is to put all the intentions on the time line exactly where you know you’ll need them – AND to train your fingers, hands and arms to serve them, of course.

Yet walking out on stage you need keep only a handful or so in mind.  Just enough to ‘get you on track’ for the performance you’ve prepared.

Now, if breathing is part of your practice – and well it should be, then making it ONE of the intentions active when you take the stage is an excellent idea.

If you know that pushing your right hand away from your body in a certain way produces a beautiful tone, then it might be another intention to hold right at the get-go. 

Certainly a few bars of the music should be part of the mix.

Now as for Clara, at this point an untrained singer and a novice actress, merely focusing on the words and melody of her song as she takes her place should put her right where she needs to be tonight. 

And I’ll be there enjoying every minute of it, to be sure.

All the Best,

Clayton Haslop

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The Value of a Breath

May 3, 2010 13:32

Just returned from a brief sojourn in LA where my primary duties involved recording the music for the latest version of ‘Karate Kid’, starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith.

 Looks to be a sweet film, and the score by James Horner is certainly lending it all the heartfelt emotional punch one could ask for.

 One of the cues, however, was a jaunty, rhythmically tricky bit of writing requiring the string section to act as an extension of the rhythm section.

 It was the kind of cue that can get even the best of players tense; knowing when NOT to play can feel more important than knowing when TO play.

 Of course this kind of defensive thinking can be the bane of playing pleasure real fast.  And it can also get you off into your own little universe of time in a heartbeat, much to the annoyance of those supposedly there to play WITH you.

 So the first thing I did when I saw this bit on page 2 of 4 M 11 – that’s reel 4, scene 11 – was to remind myself to breathe.  Yep, with nice deep belly-breaths.

 You see, not only do those breaths sharpen my mind and relax my body, they also enable me to fall into the ‘pocket’ of the time.  When one is tense it is VERY easy to lose track of the flow of time.  And rushing the beat is the usual result.

 Sure enough, on the first takes we had a few ‘premature articulations’ around the section arising from overly active, tense brains STRIVING for excellence.

 Fortunately, after a couple of passes everyone did settle in, and we produced the expected result with only a few minutes delay.

 I just wish, however – and it would really be beyond the pale for me to suggest this in a professional setting – that more folks had ‘the breathing habit’ as they read music, particularly music requiring rhythmic accuracy.  It would be a nice change to avoid those little hiccups in what are otherwise really satisfying musical experiences.

 My string playing colleagues in Los Angeles are truly extraordinary players, by any standard.  Yet if there were any way that things could improve, in a general way, it would be through the extension of ‘breath’ into rhythmic passages.

 Now, just so you have all my thoughts on this, while you breathe, one mustn’t forget to count, subdividing the dotted rhythms to make them absolutely square with the beat.  This is what Toscanini was getting at when he remarked, ‘play as written!’ 

 Once you are doing that you’re then ready to add the ‘feel’, to ‘put something’, as the master would have said it.  And that is when the real magic heats up the room.

All the best,

 Clayton Haslop

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