Do I need to 'meditate'? HELP!!! (Meditation from Thais)

July 7, 2007 at 07:52 PM · I have started practicing MEDITATION FROM THAIS a couple of weeks ago...and I find it very...interesting and amusing. Even though I am able to play all the notes correctly from the beginning to the end, however, I am not getting the feeling of it. Maybe I'm a bit young for it (for i'm still in junior high) and maybe I just need to practice it more. All I know now is that it's peaceful and quiet when you meditate. You have to be one with yourself, swimming through your thoughts...until you reach the bottom and you come out. I actually have to 'meditate mentally' while I'm playing? How do you make it more musical and sound more like a meditation than...something else? I'm not getting its 'feeling'...please help!

Thank you,


Replies (24)

July 7, 2007 at 09:09 PM · You could try listening to many different interpretations of it, to get some ideas. There are many on youtube and the like. For example

Calvin Sieb:

Anne Sophie-Mutter:

Nathan Milstein:

Maxim Vengerov:

Josef Hassid

July 7, 2007 at 09:21 PM · I first performed that piece when i was about 13, too - with harm and organ accompanyment. I'm pretty sure I just kept the tempo, played the notes in tune and followed the bowings and the dynamics.

Since that time, almost 60 years ago, I've certainly played it many times, and for many different types of events. Funerals, weddings, ordinary things, etc.

To play it now, I select a mood and then play the Meditation accordingly. It can be sad - a song of loss, or a song of love, a piece of music developing queit strength from a calm beginning - just about anything you want at the time.

It is not a "meditation" in the current spiritual sense (zen, etc.) of clearing one's mind, so much as a 19th cenury concept of mindfulness. At least that's what I think - so I'm not swayed by a translation of the title so much as the potential of the music.

July 8, 2007 at 03:22 AM · Thank you. That was an amazing lecture!

July 8, 2007 at 06:58 AM · I really like Milstein's playing of it. I listened to Oistrakh awhile back do it, and his is excellent too. But maybe it's the recording medium, but Milstein!. I love Oistrakh too in general.

I'd love to hear Ysaye play it--I just have this feeling. Someone penned some faces of the song use wise.

I find it a song with just enough extra potential in it's shape to make this a wonderful exercise. It's like when one makes mashed potatoes. Just use the broth, or sneak in a little butter'n'cream, and extra pepper and they are acceptably rich without being overwhelming.

So, it's a song that can be plain or nicely expressive, but if overdone--well, that's really none of my business come to think of it. But, I felt Milstein's evenness yet brilliant tonality just like, pegged it!.

I think I'll play this--he played it in D--I suppose that's how it was written.

July 8, 2007 at 05:26 PM · Hi,

My suggestion is to read Thais. It can be downloaded in english from the Gutenberg project. In the story, Profnutius goes through a period of contemplation, after which he decides to reform the lovely courtesan Thais. The Meditation is a depiction of that scene, in which he struggles with his lust for her, his anguish at her rejection of him, and his choice to make her his spiritual project.

It is not enough, however, to read up to that part of the story. The plot unfolds in a comically tragic or tragically comic fashion that alters the gestalt of the moment depicted by the piece.

I tried the piece when I was your age, but did not understand it, and it was far from my taste at the time. When the teacher utterly refused to assign another piece for me, I was rather upset with him, especially since I was literally choosing between food and lessons at the time. He insisted that it was the right piece for me at my level and temperament. Then I found out that everyone in the ninth grade was playing it as part of a standard curriculum, I dropped the teacher. I didn't like his lack of flexibility, but more so, I disliked being lied to.

That experience really soured me to the Meditation for a very long time, but when I took it up recently to play at a friend's wedding, and I researched the story, I found a new understanding and a new appreciation for it.

July 8, 2007 at 06:36 PM · My daughter just got done playing this piece at a masterclass. The instructor at this masterclass said that his teacher once told him to "get a girlfriend" because this piece required the music to come from the heart.... and it needs to be able to tell a story.

If you are in junior high... perhaps you are too young for a boyfriend... my daughter won't date until she is 30 hahaha..

"Meditation" is a more difficult piece then you would think because of the musically that you have to put into it.

July 8, 2007 at 07:56 PM · charlie parker used to say if you dont live it, it wont come out of your horn

with the inevitability of the human existence, one day something awful will happen to you and then youll play it like never before, until then learn new things and keep coming back to it

the more pain youve been through, the more emotional your music becomes i think

July 8, 2007 at 09:05 PM · All the words in the world won't "make you be musical". Do you have a clear audio in your mind of how you want it to sound? That's the only prerequisite, not vague, wise-sounding pronouncements such as "get a boyfriend", "read Proust", "find out about Massenet's life and times" or "visit Paris (or Alexandria, or Tibet, for that matter)".

And how to get a clear notion of how you want the ACTUAL MUSIC to sound, instead of getting off on all the above mentioned tangents, fascinating though they are? One idea is to read through the piano part (to hear both violin and piano), away from the violin, in order to clarify for yourself just how you want the work to sound. It seems like you know the mood you're trying to capture; do you know what that mood sounds like?

Just remember that describing a mood in words in order to get an idea of how to describe it in sounds is either pointless or redundant. As Steve Martin once said: "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture."

July 9, 2007 at 12:10 AM · Sometimes this works:

Play the piece EXACTLY in rhythm using a metronome, and EXACTLY in tune, and follow the printed dynamics exagerating them slightly.

Oftentimes I find that students, and myself, can't convey the "feeling" of a piece because they are missing or misplaying some crucial part of the music.

Make sure that you are able to play it perfectly correctly and in the process you will discover how the piece is supposed to sound and perhaps what that means to you.

Don't underestimate this piece; it is a little harder than it looks. I have heard it performed perfectly awfully by perfectly fine violinists.

July 9, 2007 at 12:17 AM · Ditto Michael to start with.

July 9, 2007 at 11:26 AM · "the more pain youve been through, the more emotional your music becomes"

Wow! Milstein, Ysaye, Oistrakh, Francescatti, Joshua Bell, Grumiaux, Hilary Hahn, to name just a few, must have gone through hell.

July 9, 2007 at 03:12 PM · Actually, I believe that in the opera it's not the monk Athanael who's meditating about Thais and his lust for her -- it's Thais herself, during her conversion from a life of sin as a high-class courtesan to a pious and sainted nun. So maybe the way to catch the spirit of the piece would be to wallow in sinfulness for a while and then go to church.

(No, I'm not actually recommending that to the young lady who originally asked the question -- I wholeheartedly agree with what Mr. Chudnovsky had to say.)

Incidentally, despite the Meditation, it's actually an irreverent, not to say blasphemous, opera that delivers a titillating mixture of religion and sensuality, somewhat like Salome, based on a book that was vehemently condemned by religious authorities when it first appeared. I understand that the premiere was enlivened by an "accidental" wardrobe malfunction on the part of the original Thais, similar to the celebrated Superbowl event. Contemporary performances go in for full frontal nudity.

July 9, 2007 at 03:48 PM · I have this habit of, on popular songs, imitating the singer who made the song popular, no matter what their voice sounds like. Neil Diamond, Elvis, Beach Boys, Nat King Cole (he's pretty hard to do), the dude that sings "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay"--

Anyway, when I learned this song on the violin, I did the same thing, to the best of my ability. You might try it.

What I mean, is find a recording that you like of this song, and listen to it until you FEEL the dynamics and grace and all, and then try to bring out all of those qualities in your music. Don't feel bad if it doesn't come right away-- it didn't come right away for me, either... The dynamics should be very powerful, and there should be clear changes of expression throughout the piece. And there's a LOT of rubato.

Also, you might try some of those "fancy" shifting techniques, you know, where you actually hear the shift during a bow might want help with your teacher on that skill, I can see that one going entirely wrong without any guidance! :)

Imagine the orchestra playing along with you (or crank up the volume on your CD player and play along). It really helps you feel the music.

I sound like a hippie, as always...but hippies are cool as long as they aren't druggies, too... I'll shut up now.

Rubato and dynamics, rubato and dynamics...

July 9, 2007 at 04:03 PM · If I recall correctly, the Meditation is about a moment of religious conversion. Such times can give rise to a variety of feelings which could be expressed in ways that are not necessarily consistent (e.g., excitement, peace, contentment). I would say that you could play it in a number of different ways, and all would set appropriate moods. So, go with what seems to you to best express how the music makes you feel at that particular time.

July 9, 2007 at 07:26 PM · Find your personal meaning. When I play it I sometimes think of people who I loved who I can no longer see or touch. If you feel that way about a dog, make it about him or better yet, as you master the technique you need for the piece, try different personally meaningful associations. Whatever you need to find is in you; no need to borrow a literary image

July 10, 2007 at 12:33 AM · We all need to work to develop our powers of musical expression. Welcome to the club, Emily. Each day you should try to add something to your interpretation of the Meditation -- maybe another exquisitely georgeous note, maybe another beautifully shaped phrase, maybe another sensitively modulated slide. This piece is all about tone, and about shaping the phrases, finding the high points, the ups and downs, the emotionally charged moments. and finding the direction of the phrases and the goal points. For example, does the first measure lead to the second and then die away, or is the D, the last note in the second measure more of a high point? You decide. And then you think and experiment: What do I need to do with my bow to shape the phrase the way I want.

BTW: You do not need to study the plot of the opera in order to play this piece. Nor do you need to meditate.

July 10, 2007 at 01:25 AM · Greetings,

in a general sense, meditation is extremely beneficial to violin playing.



July 10, 2007 at 03:23 AM · actually it is. I guess you don@t know much about meditation and its relationship to violin playing.

July 10, 2007 at 03:29 AM · Buri, in your case it's called zoning out.... Wake up! ;).

July 10, 2007 at 03:50 AM · Careful guys.

I believe that, as usual, Mr. Brivati is completely correct.

July 12, 2007 at 05:31 PM · I agree with Rob Schnautz on emphasizing the rubato in this piece. Perhaps overemphasize it in practice to find the right balance. I also like to play the A in the 3rd measure of the solo (and again in the refrain) as a harmonic, even if it isn't marked. The main problem with this piece is that it can start to sound schmaltzy, rather than heartfelt. It's a fine line.

I particularly enjoy James Ehnes' interpretation of this piece.

July 16, 2007 at 03:19 AM · Hey! I'm trying to combine all of the above advises to make meditation sound better...x]

July 16, 2007 at 06:04 AM · Emmah--Good luck! ;)... That sounds like me trying to get all my elements together--not a pretty picture.

Elbow! Check. Chin! Check. Lightness of placement! Check. Straight Wrist........

July 16, 2007 at 11:07 PM · lol, Emmah! After I posted, I realized how many responses there were. I started reading them, and they all contradict each other. Either people say things relative to different standards, or there are many correct ways to play it. There's no way you can use all of these suggestions!

If I were Emily I'd be lost and even more confused than before! Poor Emily! :|

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