August 17, 2012 at 10:12 PMDoes rigorous classical training keep violinists from being creative?
Lately I've seen a lot of discussion on Violinist.com and elsewhere about the idea that a rigorous classical training, which teaches a high level of technique, can sometimes pound the creativity out of a student.
I'd like to have a little vote on this, and encourage people to chime in with their thoughts on the matter. So here's the vote, and then I'll give you my thoughts:
In our modern world, we are surrounded by what I'll call "immediate gratification music." Punch "play" on your iPod and you can instantly hear -- rendered with perfect clarity and sound mix -- anything from a Beethoven Symphony to '80s techno pop to jazz to rap to Lady Gaga to... ANYTHING.
Why should anyone work at acoustic music? Particularly, why work to achieve a high level of technique, when it takes SO long to get there. If someone decides they like the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, it could well take 10 years of studying the violin, just to play it. Won't that beat the desire out of a student, all the scales and double-stop etudes and other pieces they must play in the interim?
But, whether you want to play the Tchaikovsky Concerto or a really kick-ass version of the Orange Blossom Special, at some point you need to actually learn how to play the instrument. That means you need to know some very specific things about how to hold the instrument and bow, to produce a good tone, to play in tune, perhaps to read music. If you want the thrill of playing that fast, high-risk high-reward music that is such a fun ride, you'll also need to learn to play up high on the fingerboard, to do bow with strokes like spiccato and ricochet, to produce a great vibrato, to play with fast fingers, achieve a very high level of coordination and more.
It takes a lot of work, and likely a lot of help, support and mentorship. I think that classical music actually offers the highest level of help, support and mentorship for completely mastering an instrument! And with mastery, you can create whatever you want, in any genre of music.
The definition of creativity, however, varies from person to person.
To be fully creative, the artist should expose themselves to as broad an experience as possible. Study different techniques. Learn music theory, chord progressions, different musical styles.
It all starts with mastery of the instrument and builds from there.
I've got a long ways to go.
I agree creative can be:
- To dare to play something with our own voice, fingerings and phrasing.
- To make little arrangments, transcriptions or compositions. I do some of these to be able to play with my clarinettist sister, if a violin score doesn't exist, if I need something customised for an event etc.
- To find a way to produce the sound you want, find the good equipment, experiment things etc.
- Find your own practice routines that work for you.
As said previously, I also find a classical training gives tools to create!
What bias is that exactly?
As we focus more and more on specialization (as w/ the modern day rigorous classical violin training), I think we generally become locked into one particular mode of expression which makes it hard for us to cross into other very different forms. That's just the way it works in general, not just for the violin, but for most any other field/discipline.
However, I do also agree that the specialization can provide the means to delve deeper and be creative at a more refined/nuanced level w/in the discipline.
The former type of creativity on the broader (non-specialized) level is probably easier for casual (mainstream) folks to appreciate while the latter type is not.
For analogy, in my field (in computer science), the non-geeks :-) tend to be wowed by the simplest, most obvious things we might do, often calling us a "wiz" and paying good $$$ for such, but cannot fully appreciate the finer things that we may actually work hard to study and put to practice -- and those things often go unused and/or unnoticed in most of our work.
Another analogy can be found in the culinary field and how our mainstream fastfood-ish culture tends to view it. Often takes so called foodies (along w/ the fine chefs and cooks) to more fully appreciate the finer things that the avg folk probably does not. My own taste buds ain't exactly bad, but I can't really appreciate fine wines (at least at this point) if my life depended on it -- and that's not to say I can't taste any diff at all either...
BTW, my just-13-yo son (as well as slightly older daughter) would love to play the Tchaikovsky yesterday(!) if he could, but he's learned enough now to understand that he's at least a good ways away from being able to hack at it at all -- doesn't stop him from trying once in a while though. In his case, he almost gave up on violin after ~3 years of Suzuki-based study during his grade school years, but got hooked when he first caught a glimpse of the possibilities w/ the help of Vivaldi -- the kids just started learning Vivaldi's Spring concerto now to go w/ the standard Suzuki repertoire (among other things), and they (and even my 5-yo ;-) ) are loving that. :-) Yeah, my son doesn't exactly relish all the hard work that's needed, but he's gradually come to appreciate all of it as a whole, and practicing is no longer like pulling teeth everyday w/ him -- and I do believe this discipline is translating very positively to other areas for him as well.
And tangentially, I think the violin (and music in general) makes for a very nice analogy (and/or metaphor) for many other areas of work and life as well as I regularly use it to help explain all sorts of things to my violin playing kids. For instance, just the other day I used it to help explain some basic mathematical concepts to my son -- some basic ideas about mathematical expression and representation, forms and symbology, etc. which can also be seen in written music (and usually taken for granted) as well. I also often compare violin practice and technique to many other activities/interests they have. So the rigorous classical violin training (even though I'm mainly just an observer who dabbles) can lend itself to creative uses far outside of the music itself -- and I often remind my kids of that in one way or another so that they understand it's not just about the music (for us anyway)...
Improvisation is an intuitive and creative activity that does require a musical ear and technical ability on an instrument such as one would learn with classical training. A good way to develop this kind of creativity is to practice playing a busy counterpoint melody over a smoother line of melody or visa versa. Or, practice continuous variations over a basso ostinato (ground) or a repeated set of chords or repeated harmony. Another way is to practice playing your own made up part with a jazz or bluegrass recording - and yet another way is to play your own momentarily made up part with other musicians. They don't have to be jazz or bluegrass musicians. They could be sitarists or play the oud or bongos or hang drum, for example. Lastly, another way to be creative is to practice playing a solo improvisation. I believe that the more you play this way, the more creative your musical intuition becomes. I don't see why a classically trained violinist could not accomplish this if they really wanted to. Their fundamental skills are already there. So, my answer to this blog question would be no.
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