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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000576.txt from 2000/07

Subj: [kl] enthused musings upon Mozart Concerto
Date: Tue, 18 Jul 2000 12:39:43 -0400

I've learned a lot from the professionals and advanced amateurs contributing
to the threads on the Mozart concerto (under several headings now). It
bothers me, though, that several people sing theme and variations on, "I
refused to study this concerto at such-and-such time, because I wasn't worthy
of it, and of course I'm still not worthy of it." (I'm loosely
paraphrasing.) I agree with the general idea that beginners could put their
time to better use than by tackling a professional-level concerto, but I hope
the "we're not ready yet" idea doesn't prove so contagious that adults and
advanced students think they can best show respect for Mozart by putting off,
and putting off, and putting off learning his music. I think there's a
danger of deifying Mozart, when the repertory of really first-class pieces
for clarinet is so small.

IMHO, an overly-fervent adoration of music or any other art can stifle the
learning of it. When I taught English 1A (then the required freshman
composition class) at the University of California at Davis, I was surprised
by the number of students who said they'd done almost no writing in the lower
grades. Apparently, certain school districts operated under the official
policy, "They're not ready to write yet." (Not much has changed in 30 years,
alas -- I was appalled to read quotations from a local public school
principal saying the same thing in The Washington Post just a few days ago!)
Teachers in those schools spent the class time "getting the students ready to
write," with workbook drills. Not surprisingly, my students brought up under
such a regimen wrote poorly and suffered from severe writer's block. The
mechanical drills had taught them to perform well . . . on drills. They
seemed to think *real* writing was for *real* writers -- for Shakespeare, not
for them. How does someone learn to write, except by writing? I had to
spend a lot of time in overcoming the intimidated, defeated attitudes of
these students.

I have the strong impression that something similar can happen with music.
Yes, fundamentals are necessary. We need to learn them. But, how do we get
ready to play the Mozart concerto, or any other "real music," except by
playing it? Progress isn't a steady march. It involves many small steps,
some of them backwards. People need to take breaks - - take time to
consolidate what we've learned. I know I learn something best by working on
it for awhile, setting it aside, then going back to it later and making a
fresh start. Meanwhile, other studies will add something to my understanding
of the music.

If I waited to study something until I was sure of getting it right the first
time, then chances are I'd never study anything and I'd die ignorant. It
seems better to me to work on something and get it as close to right as I can
for now, set it aside, then go back later and try to get more of it right:
build the Tower of Babel one brick at a time, from the bottom, not try to set
it down ready-made, from a helicopter on high. Isn't that a horrible
metaphor?! Oh well, I can't think of an appropriate one right now. That
doesn't mean I'm stuck with the horrible metaphor forever. I've reconsidered
it too late for *you*, of course, because here I go, shamelessly performing
my horrible metaphor in public -- but if I wanted to, I could decide not to
send this message, until I thought of a way to revise and improve it with
(among other things) a less unfortunate metaphor.

Similarly, I don't want to inflict my rendition of the Mozart concerto on an
audience. (Imagine one horrible metaphor after another.) I'll never be a
pro musician and I hear no reason to think my Mozart will ever sound good
enough for me to want anybody but Shadow and Dick Vigorous in the audience,
but for those of you do or *will* perform the Mozart in public, learning an
inadequate interpretation of it now isn't something to dread as if it would
condemn you to play it that way forever, any more than my horrible metaphor
above condemns me to write that way forever. If you don't like the way
something sounds now, nothing stops you from changing it later. Even
recording something, putting it on permanent record, need not end the
learning process. The great performers revise even first-rate
interpretations if they get the chance. Violinist Nathan Milstein recorded
the entire cycle of Bach's unaccompanied sonatas and partitas twice. Both
sets are superb, IMHO, but they're different. Nothing wrong with that.
Alfred Brendel did the same thing with Beethoven's piano concertos. I've got
both sets and wouldn't like to lose either of them.

I resist the idea of setting up Mozart as some sort of holy icon, to whom we
must genuflect from a reverent distance for many years before we dare
approach (crawling on our bellies). As far as I'm aware, Mozart wrote his
music to be played, not worshipped. By the most rigorous standards, I've got
no business practicing the Mozart, since I'm an amateur who will never play a
concerto in public or with an orchestra, or even well enough that I'd want
anybody else to listen to me. Yet I do practice the concerto, because I love
it, and because *playing it* as well as possible strikes me as a completely
appropriate way to show respect for it.

I will not watch anything on ABC-TV again until the network abandons its
newly-announced "viral marketing" ad campaign. This campaign will place TV
ads in public urinals (the ads come on when a motion sensor detects that the
facility is in use) and place recorded commercials on people's home telephone
answering machines. For details of this intolerably obnoxious escalation of
the war on personal privacy, see Lisa de Moraes's "The TV Column" on p. 1 of
the Style section of The Washington Post, July 18, 2000, available online at:

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