Skip to main content

The Capacity for Flourish

Steve and I were watching YouTube last night and we watched an hour long interview with renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson about fountain pens.  Because we love fountain pens.  And science.  And because at heart we are old, old people.

And Dr. Tyson, bless his heart, was so adorably, geekily delighted with his collection of Space-themed fountain pens, and although the interviewer was trying to wrap up he kept showing us more and more pens and talking about their nibs and the ink he chooses to put in them and why he always has to have a pen that posts, which is a term I had not known but means that the cap has to fit on the back of the pen while you are writing.  He insists on this because otherwise the pen is too small and insubstantial for his large hand and for his comfort.  And he demonstrated writing with one of his pens, and the interviewer pointed out that he holds it a long way back from the tip.

And Neil deGrasse Tyson said, "If you hold it too close, the capacity for flourish is reduced."

LOVE LOVE LOVE this.

Because of course it is.  You can put words down on paper if you are holding the pen right up by the nib, but those words are going to be made up of tiny cramped letters.  And maybe tiny cramped letters don't necessarily imply tiny cramped thoughts - but maybe they encourage them.  Maybe if you are writing using only the muscles of your fingertips you have to channel all of your creativity through the tiniest possible part of your body, whereas if you can take that metaphorical step back and write with your wrist, your arm, your shoulder, your body - maybe more of YOU can get through.

THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I TALK ABOUT WITH MY STUDENTS ALL THE TIME.  THIS IS LIKE THE OBOE.

If you play the oboe with your face and your hands, there's a limit to what you can get.  If you manage everything from your embouchure, you can get finesse.  You can be very accurate and sound very pretty, but you don't get FLOW and you don't get CONNECTION and you don't get COMMUNICATION and you don't get FLOURISH.

Those things come from the AIR.  They come from trusting the oboe and blowing THROUGH it and allowing your whole body to participate in making the music and sending it out into the world.

We're still in the early weeks of our teaching year, still just starting to gear up - but I can say confidently that the words, "More AIR, less MOUTH" have come out of my lips at least a dozen times so far.  And that's BEFORE I watched the Director of the Hayden Planetarium be joyful about his pen.



Thank you for the inspiration, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson!

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…