Skip to main content

Music and Movement

I've been re-reading through my collection of performance and teaching books, and remembered how much I love this one.

Eloise Ristad writes beautifully about using movement, and acting, and the occasional silly game to release the creativity and inherent musicianship and even the technique of her students. The stories resonate with me, because I feel as though my most successful lessons are the ones in which an unexpected, informal turn of phrase makes a student suddenly connect the dots.

In a recent lesson, a college student and I were working on phrase direction. I talked about the music moving forward or resting as it approached and then arrived at a cadence.  No real result.  We talked about keeping his articulation consistently light while ADDING direction and flow to the cadence.  He couldn't find that technique in himself either.

 We bounced back to good old Barret page 46 - an intensely dull-looking set of exercises on short notes and slurred notes in scale patterns.  We talked about Tabuteau's system of "up" and "down".  I tried to translate that into the visual of a violin bow.

I was dancing all over the room, making phrases with my body and my arms, and talking and talking and talking, and it finally occurred to me that the problem was that I was SHOWING but he wasn't DOING.  I asked him to play two measures of quarter notes which went down up up up down up up up down, and to ACTUALLY go physically up and down with the words.  He spent a few minutes on his tip toes raising the oboe and bringing it down, and suddenly he got it.  I could close my eyes and still hear the direction.  After just a few minutes he could stand still and still produce it.  The breakthrough ONLY happened when he translated our words into his body, and after we got there he couldn't go back to hearing motionless, static quarter notes, or to making phrases artificially with length or dynamics.  It was a night-and-day difference.

I talk about body language when I teach - but I rarely ASK for it.  I loved reading Ristad's book to remind me that words are not always the solution.  It's inspiring to have new teaching ideas.  This is a book I'll keep returning to.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Self-Talk

When we started the opera cycle (An American Dream, showing at the Harris Theater tonight and Sunday afternoon), the four woodwinds were sitting stacked in a rehearsal room.  In other words, the flute to my right, the bassoon behind me, the clarinet behind the flute, just like in the orchestra.  And it was OK.  We were fairly close together, the room was resonant, and we were working on orchestral details.  But when we moved into the pit, this seating felt VERY isolating.  The four of us were far apart, on two different levels, the wall was right next to me, and intonation and ensemble were very much more difficult.  Our entrances and releases were not clean together, and because we had to balance to the singers on stage, I found my playing getting more and more tentative.  Don't be too loud, don't come in early before the clarinet, keep everything in the box, try to lead the entrances but stay in the texture... And it felt like everything that was not quite great was my fault…

Generosity in Programming

I had the most interesting conversations with a few of my students after my first recital performance last weekend.  One thanked me for exposing her to so many interesting new pieces that she had never heard before.  One admitted unabashedly that his favorites were the familiar ones, the ones he already knew from his previous listening.  And both of these observations rang true to me.

See, I LOVE learning new music.  I really enjoy digging into a piece and breaking through an unfamiliar harmonic language to get to the depths of it.  To discover the composer's intention, and to find the universal emotion or experience at the heart of the work, and then to communicate that meaning back out to an audience.  This challenge is fun for me, and I think I do it well.

I have to be fair, though.  By the time I have put that kind of work into a new piece, it's not new to me anymore.  By the time I get it to the recital stage, it's an old friend.  I find great pleasure in performing i…

Discouraging Words

I can remember at least two old cranky violinists coming to talk to young me about NOT going into music.  There was a session, for example, during a Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra retreat in which a real RPO professional (who was probably 47 but whom I remember as ancient) told us that, statistically, no one who graduates from music school wins auditions for jobs because there are only like 4 jobs out there in the world and 7000 hotshots coming into the job market every week. 

Quit NOW. 

I may have misremembered the details of this speech, but I remember the emotional jolt.  It was designed to discourage.

Last weekend I was presenting at a Double Reed Festival, and heard some oboists grumbling about another presenter who had evidently given something of the same talk to a roomful of masterclass attendees and participants.  High school students and cheerful adult amateurs.

And look, there's an element of truth to this.  Classical music is not a growing field, and it is leg…