How to Reconcile with Stylistic Choices
Hello violinist.com, as someone who is simultaneously a teacher and a student, I have come across some interesting disagreements between my students and me, as well as my teacher and me. To preface it a little bit, I respect my teacher and my students, and my students respect me--and from respect comes trust. I am okay that my teacher's interpretation of certain pieces differ from my personal taste, and I am also fine that my students will sometimes play things differently (as long as they are not blatantly incorrect, by which I mean outright incorrect reading of what is on the page or poor posture). For reference, I have noticed that my student's personal preferences differ as we started our journey through Mozart's e-minor sonata, and I have (only internally) disagreed with my teacher's interpretations since we had begun delving into Bach.
When I study pieces, both with instructions and without, I like to listen to different recordings from different artists, and I would even sometimes compare how one artist's interpretation has changed over time. As an avid shopaholic, I also purchase different editions of the same piece and study the differences and juxtapose it to the Urtext (if available). What I have noticed, both in terms of Bach and Mozart, is that people play things vastly differently. For instance, Hilary Hahn's reading of Mozart e-minor is significantly different from that of KyungWha Chung, former often going for crisp, detache sound while the latter producing more grounded, legato sound. Midori's Bach employs minimal vibrato while Milstein seems to prefer a fuller vibrato. Even across editions of sheet music, differences emerge, from something as little as bowing to something as big as dynamic disagreements (often where the composer was not entirely clear). What I have gathered and concluded over the years was that there really is no "wrong" way to play anything, which may well be an opinion, but that is my current opinion, at the very least.
But then what do you do as an instructor when your student's interpretation differs from yours? I have thus far elected to let their interpretation take flight, reinforcing their imagination--as long as they are deliberate in doing it, and as long as they can clearly articulate why they want it that way. This choice, of course, comes from my gentle nudging to have them listen to multiple recordings and a little bit of background research of the piece itself and the composer, not at mere whims. Am I naïve and irresponsible in doing so? Should I be guiding them all the way through, imparting them what I have gathered over the years to be my preferred way of playing? (This sentence seems awfully charged, but here it is.)
What do I do as a student? So far I have elected to follow my instructor because I trust them all the way through, and I respect them as an artist, but having stepped into such a personal territory as Bach, do I continue following or do I voice my dissent? My current thought process is to learn the way they play it, and modify what I do not like much later, when I am at liberty to play it (perhaps at a personal recital) whatever the way. But as a student, I am inclined to say that since I am in the learning position, I should absorb as much as they give and follow through and through, even if it means I later decide I don't like it. But what if the disagreement is so drastic that you no longer enjoy playing the piece? Though I dread the day this happens, I feel as though this is a real concern, both for my sake and for my students.
Do you let your student exercise artistic liberty, or do you keep it strictly on your ground?
If you disagree with your instructor on an interpretive way, is it important to voice it?
What do you think?
I've always asked my teacher how they goes their opinion about that choice and just said, what if I tried it this way? I've only been with them since high school, but they were accepting of my choices but also willing to point out when they didn't work or weren't true to the composer's intentions. We had many conversations on interpretation and style, and asking questions and discussing choices is a good way to start developing your own style in a sensible way.
I think it's always worth a conversation -- if that's what you want to spend your lesson time on. That's what I've learned -- I can push back against a half dozen stylistic preferences throughout my pieces, but then if that takes ten minutes, I lose that time somewhere else. Also I've noticed that my teacher has really good taste, so I'm inclined to at least try it his way and to try to see his perspective. After all I'm there to learn, not to prove myself. Especially with solo Bach, which I don't have the musical maturity to fathom, and will only in the end be able to play a few movements therefrom, it's good to know that I'm getting advice from someone who learned them all very thoroughly during his own education. That immediately makes his view much more informed than mine can be just from listening to recordings.
I think that for students old enough to think for themselves (or who exhibit an artistic sensibility that is instinctive when young), the teacher should point out when something doesn't work. If it's for factual reasons (uncharacteristic of the period, a violation of the composer's intent, etc.) that should be pointed out. If it doesn't work convincingly as an interpretation, that should be explained. The student benefits from being helped to figure out what
With regard to Paul's comment about a conversation taking away from something else in a lesson, everything we do in a lesson takes time away from something else, so that's not a valid issue in my opinion. Often having a conversation where something gets resolved leaves a student feeling more positive than if the conversation were avoided so there was more playing time in the lesson.
I guess my comment was based on a presumption that Chase's teacher was the inflexible sort in terms of style and interpretation but a very solid teacher in every other respect. What do you do when you have a teacher like that? That's what I was trying to answer. Maybe it wasn't the question. I read the OP twice but I'm still not sure I get what he is asking.
I think it comes down to the purpose of playing the instrument. If a student is planning to go to conservatory, they should be prepared to play in the preferences of that specific school and conform to get the proper acceptance of that school. If the student is playing just for their enjoyment and wants to explore interpretations then that is what they should do. It would be up to you to reign them in when they get too far from the composer's intentions or need to work on technique. I think you see this in famous performers has they develop. At first they play it safe and do what experts feel is mostly right. Then once they achieve fame they begin to perform as they feel they should. My parents who were art historians always said, there is no wrong in art.
Before closing the book on stylistic choices I think everyone should listen to the interpretations of violinist Ivry Gitlis and of pianist Ivan Moravic. Both of these artists have greatly expanded my view of what one can do with music on the printed page.
Like OP I am both a student and a teacher. Student of viola, teacher of violin.
If we are talking about Bach/Mozart, you as student or teacher need to make a decision whether you want to attempt historically informed performance or not. In my son's program, they all learn the works of both Bach and Mozart with a clear ear (and eye) to historical performance, including many of the students playing around with cheap Baroque bow for Bach. But they don't play on period instruments or take off their chin rests. The teachers in that program insist that at least on a first learn they try to learn Bach and Mozart historical style, though of course even within that context there is much that can be altered in interpretation. I think historically informed performance is a valuable lesson to be learned and very worthwhile to attempt. Once they have that foundation, they can choose to be looser (or even stricter in the case of Rachel Barton Pine!) with their historical interpretation.
"I am okay that my teacher's interpretation of certain pieces differ from my personal taste"
Chase, what are you working on these days with your teacher?
In a teaching relationship, the question to know the answer to with regard to interpretation is "what is the basis?"
Personally I think Lydia’s post was spot on. I started to discuss interpretation with my teacher fairly early ( having a musical background in other instruments ), and could explain why I did something in a particular way, It was an extremely positive (and occasionally humorous) learning experience.
For me, the bottom line is that there is no one interpretation of any of this music that is "right" in any relevant sense. The pertinent question is how a particular interpretation works for the individual. If that individual is a student, you may want to suggest alternative interpretations for his/her benefit/consideration. If you are the student, you should be prepared to explain why a particular interpretation works for you and be prepared to listen to your teacher's response and try what s/he suggests. But, I think that is it in terms of your questions.
Wow, I did not expect this many replies!
I admire HH for her musical intelligence. She is the master of bow division and control, our own Ansel Adams of sound: such clarity in her contours and patterns, such dynamic range, such a contained intensity in every millimeter of bow. She never emotes for the sake of it, never spends bow accidentally, never wastes any bow stroke. In a way she's a modern day Kreisler, with such a compact, penetrating bowing style, and focused vibrato, but with flawless technique.
I don't think that it should be necessary to produce a reference recording to have an interpretation considered "legitimate". It suggests that the teacher/student is unable to think for themselves.
Not being a teacher I won't utter any opinion on how teachers are supposed to deal with this issue. Further disclosure: I have not had violin lessons for almost 40 years. I have instead learned from conductors and chamber music coaches, both of whom tend to spend more time on interpretation than most violin teachers.
I have no doubt HH and/or her management are savvy with social media, given her Instagram presence and association with Two Set. I'd be surprised if artists today are unaware of SEO. But gaming YouTube? It's a strange notion. What search engines do you use? You do realize nearly all search engines track your activity and feed you more of the same, right? You must be searching HH a lot. Try using https://duckduckgo.com/. It serves up results randomly. HH is still there, but so are others, marquee, lesser known and unknown names.
HH is absolutely one of the best violinists performing today, personally I wouldn’t say she’s the best but clearly in that top tier category. When an artist is performing at that level, who’s “the best” is almost always a personal opinion. I think there’s great value in looking at various artists’ interpretation of a piece, not just your current favorite artist.
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