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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000322.txt from 2005/08

From: Tony Pay <>
Subj: [kl] Composers as teachers
Date: Wed, 17 Aug 2005 11:40:17 -0400

On 10 Aug, "Bryan Crumpler" <> wrote, in part:

> You can't always say the performer comes before the composer, because as I
> work more and more with living composers and see what they wrote vs what
> they want... they rarely notate these ideas in their compositions. I
> strongly believe it's the performer's job to make works sound more
> brilliant than the composer could have imagined when conceiving the work on
> paper. This is what it means to go "deep" into the music... beyond what is
> on the paper.

We are fortunate to have a literature, not only of clarinet music, but of
other works written by composers whose ability moves them beyond what we
normally think of as musical -- certainly beyond the level of musicality of
any living clarinet player. These composers are sometimes called 'great',
and though there is debate about who should be included in the canon, there
is little argument that the canon exists.

It seems to me, and has always seemed to me, that though I of course
acknowledge many people as sources for whatever knowledge or ability I
possess myself, it is these great composers who are my *real* teachers, via
their music: solo, chamber and orchestral. In trying to produce performances
that live up to what they wrote, I set myself a task that is not so obviously
within my powers.

I do notice that my responses to the master composers have changed over the
years. But that change is not so important, and I'm not suggesting that what
I do now is necessarily better than what I did then.

What I do suggest, though, is that the 'going deeply into the music' that
Bryan speaks of above involves taking what we have from those composers --
namely, their 'texts' -- very seriously, at whatever level we currently play.
We ask ourselves what the music that corresponds to the texts is 'trying to
be'. In doing so, we grow beyond what abilities we currently have.

Those abilities, mostly pretty trivial when exercised to their own ends, are
thus stretched, deepened and actually changed in their very nature by the
effort to use them in the service of something greater. (Afterwards, of
course, they are available in the service of lesser ends, and can sometimes
make even a trivial piece touching, or exciting...or whatever.)

In the past, as an artist or craftsman you began as an apprentice to a
master, in order to enter the tradition by working alongside him or her.
After that, the tradition itself became your master, as you carried it on in
whatever direction was appropriate to your own mastery.

It seems to me that the power of this metaphor has been lost, and that the
loss has important effects in our musical culture. We don't always ask
ourselves what great music is demanding of us, because we want to impress, to
dazzle, to *sell ourselves*; and an ever less discriminating audience seems
to want that too. If the music wants to be exciting, it should be exciting,
of course; but that's a given. If it doesn't want to be exciting, we
shouldn't make it be.

(A student who recently played for me had written on her part of the opening
of the Copland concerto, "SELL IT!!")

For many of us, 'whizzkiddery' has too big a downside; and we can all too
often detect its unpleasantly synthetic taste in great music played by an
otherwise quite able player.

_________ Tony Pay
|ony:-) 79 Southmoor Rd
| |ay Oxford OX2 6RE
tel/fax 01865 553339

... The older you get, the better you realize you were.

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