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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000434.txt from 2003/10

From: "Joseph Wakeling" <joseph.wakeling@-----.net>
Subj: Re: [kl] Who speaks?
Date: Wed, 15 Oct 2003 12:39:11 -0400

Hmm, maybe it's a bit late to enter this discussion. But I had a few
thoughts on these issues and I'd be interested to hear what people think.

I remember a while back that someone who had heard Tony Pay's performance of
the Mozart Quintet commented to Tony, "I felt I was hearing Mozart, not
you," and Tony accepted this as a compliment.

Now, I'm going to risk offending Tony here by saying that I think Tony Pay
was present in *every second he's playing* in that piece. But *which* Tony?
Which parts of Tony? And does this contradict the idea that we were also
hearing Mozart? I don't think it does.

Here's something worth bearing in mind: you are *always* expressing
yourself, or at least some part of yourself, when you play. How can it be
otherwise? Certain things are going on inside your head and those translate
into the movements of fingers, tongue, mouth, lips, diaphragm that produce
the sound that... etc. You don't have to "put" yourself anywhere because
you're *already there*. And this leads naturally to a different question:
"Are these parts of myself which are expressing themselves supporting the
performance, or getting in the way of the performance?"

Perhaps this is more obvious when one thinks about another performance
art---acting. It's something which most actors are very well aware of that
when you are performing on stage you are always expressing some part of
yourself. And they are also aware of what is deadly to
performance---trying, or pretending. Trying to "be" the person you're
playing, or trying to "put" feelings into your playing, actually destroys
your performance, because the part of yourself that you're then expressing
is *someone trying to express something or pretend to be someone else*, and
this comes across clearly, leaving you (as the writer Hanif Kureishi put it)
"as obvious as a Catholic naked in a mosque".

So again we come back to the question, "Are these parts of myself which are
expressing themselves supporting the performance, or getting in the way of
the performance?" And "putting" or "trying" or "expressing" can clearly get
in the way, because then you are expressing these things, rather than the
things which your role is demanding. (Clearly there are times when you will
*want* to express "putting" or "trying" or "expressing", but that's
different---then the demand *is* coming from the role.) So now we're faced
with a very different task---rather than trying to "put" ourselves into the
performance, we can accept that we're *always there* and follow a different
direction: finding the parts of ourselves which express the role in the best
possible way.

When we accept this we find out something interesting: sometimes the parts
of ourselves which best express the role are very different from what the
role itself is expressing. This was shown marvellously in an article by the
playwright Arthur Miller where he talks about a play he saw in the 1960s in
Los Angeles. This play was in Yiddish, a language almost no one in America
understands, and yet it was playing to packed houses because its emotional
and dramatic intensity was such that it transcended language. The emotional
core of the play was contained in a scene where the central character tries
to kill himself. He sits on his bed in his broken-down bedsit with a gun to
his head. This goes on for what seems like an age, and the audience has an
incredibly powerful sense of the struggle that is going on inside his head
as he tries to force himself to pull the trigger. Finally he cries out,
"Ah, ich kann nicht!" ("I can't do it!") and throws the gun to the floor.

Miller went backstage afterwards and spoke to the actor, and asked him, how
did he create this effect, so he could hold the audience spellbound like
this, barely moving and yet creating an incredible impression of the action
going on inside the character's head as he tries to kill himself. The actor
replied, "Well, the thing is, I realised I am not in any way, nor have ever
been, remotely suicidal. There is no way that I can empathise with this
man. So I have to find my own way to convey his struggle. I realised that
the one thing I really hate, I can't bring myself to do, is washing in cold
water. So when you see me on stage with the gun in my hand, what I'm really
trying to to is get myself to step into the shower."

A (very simple) musical analogy can be found when we think of, for example,
playing rhythmically complex music. Imagine trying to play five even notes
in the space of four, at a moderate tempo. The way to do this is to imagine
quintuplets on every one of the (four) beats, and tie them together in
groups of four. Yet what the audience perceives are five even notes. If we
were to try and "express" five even notes we would actually most likely
fail, and the audience would notice.

So in a similar way, if we try to "put ourselves into the music", all we
will ever express is "trying" or "putting". Whereas if we listen and are
aware of what's going on in our mind and body and ask ourselves, "Is the
*music* expressing itself fully?", we can express ourselves in a much deeper
way and even surprise ourselves by expressing things that may be entirely
outside our conventional personalities.

-- Joe

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