Emotion - Passion ?

June 22, 2014 at 10:22 PM · This could be a question, it could be opinion, theory, whatever, I'm going to say/ask none the less!

I see wonderful musicians (not only violinists) playing with such passion, movement, emotion into the pieces they're playing, I see these musicians play in a way as if they're feeling the music. I've heard "you must play with emotion" from various people, videos, teachers. This quote I heard sometime ago, has lingered in my mind - “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart” - Helen Keller. I'm sure some of you have heard people saying similar things and possibly even heard the quote (I, I , I. I know! hehee)

As a noobie to playing the violin and essentially music in a sense, I'm wondering how is emotion/passion applied when playing? Is it really "Felt" or is it something to be learnt? Perhaps this is something that has no answer, I guess I'll find out!


Replies (25)

June 22, 2014 at 11:28 PM · Music can move us profoundly; then we want to share it. This requires precise techniques, and special awareness.

I'm not sure we can "play with feeling", but rather play in a way to convey that feeling.

Also, our listeners may not have the same feelings as us; but they are still moved.

On those days when we feel little, we can still produce something of beauty which will move others.

June 22, 2014 at 11:45 PM · Talent or the ability to entertain cannot be taught because the classroom isn't the right area to teach it. The ability to entertain is evoked from your surroundings, and you need that atmosphere to bring it out.

Emotion and creativity are a part of talent and they can be unfolded, open or strengthened, but because of poor teaching techniques and concepts emotion and creativity are often suppressed.

You don't need to learn it, you have to prevent others and poor technique from suppressing it.

June 22, 2014 at 11:55 PM · I don't think that movement is necessarily correlated with projecting emotion to one's audience. It can just be a way of saying "look I'm being emotional" rather than actually adding anything to the performance. A good test is to listen with your eyes closed.

We can all convey an intent, a feeling, with how we speak. Just think of all the different ways you can say "hello" - it could convey anything from wariness to physical attraction. You do nothing more than think the thought/have the feeling as you say the word and the intention is conveyed. I think the key to conveying emotion musically is tapping into that ability. Kind of learning to project your thoughts/feelings with your instrument instead of your mouth. My teacher describes it as playing with intent and in lessons gets me to play something while projecting various emotions.

Technique is of course useful, but if you can't project your emotional intent the music will sound flat. If you can convey intent verbally, you can learn to do that with your music.

June 23, 2014 at 01:59 AM · Technique is the palette for expression.

June 23, 2014 at 02:22 AM · "I don't think that movement is necessarily correlated with projecting emotion to one's audience."

I actually disagree with this part. Imagine going to a concert with two performers playing with the orchestra. One just stands there straighter than a stick, occasionally moving just to adjust their while playing perfectly while the other actual 'digs' into the piece, crouching ever so slightly forward for those soft, delicate notes and stands up playing towards the sky playing those grandiose passages. To the average audience, they'll probably rave about the person conveying the emotions (whether or not that person feels it is a different thing) vs. the person who just stood there.

In a society where visuals are becoming more and more...hmm..."required" it does help the audience and makes it more enjoyable. Although then you have the extremes, like *cough*S. Chang* whom you could swear was on a trampoline most of the time, making you feel kinda nauseated!*cough* ;D

Can it be taught? I'd say it depends on a lot of factors. Knowing the history of a piece, how you can relate to it can help. Tougher when it's say, a classical period composer or even baroque. Personally I was convinced people like Vivaldi, Bach, Haydn and to some extent Mozart were taking a lot of pills to make themselves happy all the time until a teacher at the conservatory threatened to fail me if I didn't pick a new subject debating how widespread drug use was way back when... =P

June 23, 2014 at 09:44 AM · "You don't need to learn it, you have to prevent others and poor technique from suppressing it."

How terribly true, Charles! Many practice regimes flatten everything, so we have write in many signs in the score to get some semblance of "expression".

I find youngsters so authentic that it is criminal to crush their spontaneity. Compromise is for adults!

I was intrigued by your use of "entertain", where I wrote "move", although I totally agree with what followed. I realise that the OP was not only about "feelings", but also about "the musician as actor". But I am dismayed when folks judge my students'(or my own) performance on mainly visual criteria. We are communicating musicians, not clowns in a reality show, full of "emotion and generosity". I am also dismayed when folks applaud each solo in Vivald's Gloria, or each movement of a Late Beethoven Quartet. Or use electric pianos with bass-guitar amplifiers.

Am I just a snob?

June 23, 2014 at 10:02 AM · I also like Liz's expression "playing with intent".

Having tried to grasp a student's spontaneous reactions to a piece, I try to "translate" this into well-defined sounds and gestures which will convince the listener, or even an examiner.

Even a simple song can be played as a lullaby or as a military march; then the student can choose.

June 23, 2014 at 11:03 AM · IMO its summed up in one word: Honesty.

You can learn methods to emit emotional content - different bowings, finger pressure and vibrato. These are tools like word sounds are to a poet or how mixing and applying paint to an artist. For a particular piece you can then be taught to do a bit of volume here, a diminuendo and a bit of slow vibrato there - but that in itself will not work for really emotional playing, it will sound, as it is, artificial.

IMO To really connect with an audience here comes a time where you integrate all these techniques and then STOP thinking about them. You then have to be able to let go, forget the audience and let the music come out whatever way it will.

That's real expression and that's honesty - and don't be surprised, indeed be very happy when it never comes out the same way twice - like the river allegory you are never the same person twice. IMO the best examples of this are in the lesser-known stars - Ginette Neveu, Josef Hassid, Alfredo Campoli. They were not trying to be superstars or to maintain that status, they were just intrinsically great.

June 23, 2014 at 11:23 AM · "You can learn methods to create emotional content.."

Elise may I replace "create" by "transmit"?

June 23, 2014 at 01:34 PM · [thanks Adrian - I changed it to just 'emit' and expanded a bit]

June 23, 2014 at 01:57 PM · Well Jack, for me you have just asked the 90 million dollar question. Can emotion in our music transmission, be taught? If so, by whose standards? A few years ago I would have said yes, but now I am not so sure. Dynamics written into the music are generally a guide for how the composer wanted the piece to sound. Exactly how it ends up sounding is entirely up to the player. Of all the pieces given to me to learn to play, some pieces speak far more strongly to me than others. So I learn diligently and get involved in my own interpretation, still following the written dynamics etc. My personality and brain will pick out the parts I like to express in my own way. Invariably, over the years, most teachers have chosen to step in, and tell me where to play louder, softer, more or less rubato, etc rather than where I want to. As a young student this probably would not impact a great deal, but as an adult I am somewhat annoyed by this. My piece no longer sounds like my imagination felt it should. I do not want to sound like a carbon copy of millions of other students and recordings, I want to sound like me and I want the music to tell its story the way I interpret it. Maybe if you are young, you can be taught by the teacher's standards. At my age, I doubt it.

June 23, 2014 at 03:44 PM · I came to the very demanding and complete European Suzuki training as a mature student: not exactly a rebel, but obstinate. My mentor, Christophe Bossuat, often chose the exact opposite of what I would have done, expression-wise. But having done things his way, I was able to return to my own options with a richer palette of colours and articulations.

June 23, 2014 at 06:51 PM · Emotion is the unfathomable, undefinable ocean of the human heart and mind in which the music swims. If and when you can capture it and project it to an audience, you have done all that can be asked of a musician.

June 23, 2014 at 07:57 PM · We're talking high ideals here. I'd like to offer two more. One is an intimate understanding of the music, intellectual or intuitive. Another is complete freedom, so that one is not in the way of the music.

I have to go practice ;)


June 23, 2014 at 08:31 PM · "Emotion is the unfathomable, undefinable ocean of the human heart and mind in which the music swims. If and when you can capture it and project it to an audience, you have done all that can be asked of a musician."

I was really happy to see someone write this. Thank you Sander! I think this is an incredibly interesting topic and you can say so much about this.

I'm an student myself and when I listen to other students or even world known violinists- the ones who captures my attention and reaches me the most is those who have an ability to express and to tell something with the music.

I think that technique is very important too but if you want to be an endless shining star- you have to master both.

My goal is to master the technique so I can use it as a tool to express what I feel when I play.

June 23, 2014 at 11:43 PM · It IS possible to play with emotion. I do it. But the player who can play in such a way as to transmit emotion to the audience whether he feels it at the time or not is better. In the same way that a portraying actor is better than a method actor.

June 24, 2014 at 10:33 AM · I think technique is useful for conveying the expression within a piece, for shaping the music via bow stroke, pressure etc. I don't think that's the same as projecting a feeling out through the instrument.

I recently listened in on another pupil (around grade 4 ABRSM so no expert in technique) and even through a wall I could feel what he was feeling as he played. Yes with better technique the music could have sounded better, but there was no question what he was 'saying' as he played.

He was taught to play that way.

June 24, 2014 at 10:34 AM · John C, if you wish to convey narkiness and weedy joke-making in your playing, of course it does!

It's only recently that I realized that the scherzo of Brahms's D-minor sonata requires, at points, real vulgarity in the playing, as though he were a fledgling Malcolm Arnold (Does anyone do it that way? Don't people normally treat it as deadly serious and consider it a notoriously difficult movement to interpret?). Complete contrast to the rest of the work, of course.

June 24, 2014 at 11:15 AM · "I recently listened in on another pupil (around grade 4 ABRSM so no expert in technique) and even through a wall I could feel what he was feeling as he played. ... there was no question what he was 'saying' as he played.

He was taught to play that way."

How can you be sure he didn't have that in him before he knew what an instrument was! Hard thing to prove...

June 24, 2014 at 12:46 PM · At the beginning of my Suzuki teacher-training, I was struck by the children's unity in group work, but utter lack of uniformity in solos. The same expressive techniques were given to each, but their individuality shone out. It was this that convinced me to continue.

So, I think we can teach how to play with feeling, but the actual feeling comes from within each of us.

June 24, 2014 at 02:22 PM · @Elise - "How can you be sure he didn't have that in him before he knew what an instrument was! Hard thing to prove..."

Short answer - I've heard him play before.

Slightly longer version - It's the way I've been taught. Unfortunately I do not yet consistently play in that way, but I'm learning to harness and project my intent and with practice it will become the norm.

June 24, 2014 at 03:02 PM · I have been sitting in my daughter's violin lessons from the outset (that's going on four years now), and I have witnessed her professor gradually teaching her how to play with expression. I have watched as something is played rather dryly and mechanically, and then there is a few minutes of discussion about expression in the piece, and then upon playing it again there's a world of difference. And it's not just "once more with feeling." The coaching is very detailed.

There is always the nature/nurture question, and perhaps it is true that there must be an emotional basis -- something inside -- that the child can reach, and that this advances in complexity with age and maturity. I think it is also possible for a student to just learn an increasingly sophisticated set of tools for "conveying emotion" that may including outward physical signs like wincing or swaying about. I have to say that it's really very hard to know how organic those kinds of manifestations really are. is Josh Bell really "feeling it" or is he just so well equipped with the tools of violin showmanship that you're completely fooled? I'd like to think it's the former, but who besides he has proof?

My guess is that most violin teachers -- like my daughter's teacher -- start with the concept of storytelling and the overall character of a short piece. What is "The Two Grenadiers" about, and how does it differ from "Hunter's Chorus?" What changes in dynamics, articulation, etc., can be used to convey these differences? And then over time the process becomes increasingly nuanced until, eventually, the feelings conveyed exceed the bounds of common spoken language, just as the techniques needed to do the conveying hopefully also are realized.

June 25, 2014 at 12:20 AM · 2nd Movement of Schubert Op 161 (Posth) string quartet: FEAR!!! Also Dies Irae from Verdi Requiem.

Bach's Fantasia Prelude on In Dulce Jubilo: Joy.

Schumann's Piano Quintet slow movement: Sadness.

By Brahms Concerto, you must have meant the First PIANO Concerto, surely?

I'm not sure how to define the passion in the third movement of the Purcell G-minor Sonata, but it sure is intense!

Similarly Es Ist Vollbracht, from the St John Passion.

Middle section of last movement of Märchenbilder: Intense Passionate Romantic Love, as is fitting for the awakening kiss of the Sleeping Beauty.

June 26, 2014 at 02:12 PM · Sometimes you can destroy the passion in a piece by playing passionately. Isn't it because of this that Tchaikovsky wrote the theme of the last movement of the Pathetique the way he did? Give any violinist the tune, and they will put bags of expression into it. But Tchaikovsky wanted it stark. So he divided the notes of the tune between the first and second violins, so nobody gets to read the tune in what they see before them.

June 26, 2014 at 06:33 PM ·

detache - to play without emotion. IMO

I can see the French conductors writing this in. Of coarse we have gone too far with the technique and explanation of this term, ironically.

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