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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000480.txt from 2005/08

From: (Ormondtoby Montoya)
Subj: Re: [kl] Composers as teachers
Date: Sun, 28 Aug 2005 01:37:44 -0400

Tony, I'd like to exclude certain possibilities from this discussion
because they aren't what we're really discussing:

> For example, does the choice of 'what the
> performer wants to say' trivially include
> changing the text of the work of a great
> composer?

No, that is not part of this discussion.

Nor are situations where a person's instrument or skill level forces
departure from the text --- such as "I can't reach this high into the
altissimo" or "I don't have low Eb on my instrument".

Also, I presume we are not discussing situations such as "My employer
demands <whatever>" or "The historical tradition is clear, and I choose
to honor it."

Those are important issues, but they are not what I am trying to

> I mentioned in a previous post that taking
> seriously *all* the possible varieties of 'what
> the performer wants to say' about a piece
> would make spitting on the floor, holding a
> clarinet in front of a music stand bearing the
> part of the Stravinsky Three Pieces, 'count' as
> a performance of the Stravinsky.

I presume that this sort of 'antic' is not under discussion either.

> but it doesn't suffice for some young
> whippersnapper keen to look good, flashy
> and sexy (or, at the other end of the scale,
> someone concerned to feel 'comfortable'
> playing.)

This is another situation which I hope is not part of the discussion.

In fact, perhaps six months ago, I posted on Klarinet my extreme anger
at a violinist with a resume of guest performances with L.A.
Philharmonic, Philadelphia, New York and so forth who absolutely
massacred Tchaikovsky's violin concerto while strutting around the
stage, forcing the cellos and basses to move aside while they were
playing in order that he could pass amongst them, turning his back on
the audience, and so forth _while missing notes_ !

I am not discussing obvious show-offs, nor obviously lazy or frightened

> What is allowed?

We=A0have already excluded "allow" from this discussion (I hope) in the
sense that we are not discussing an employer's orders, or nonsensical
antics, or whether tradition should be honored, or so forth. I don't
mean that outside authority is irrelevant in real life. I accept that
authority exists, and often it is the controlling factor. But in this
discussion, we are (I hope) limiting "allow" to whatever the performer's
own sensibilities allow him or her to do.

Enough for topics excluded.

> Why should we care what other people want
> it to say?

???? A person may decide that the audience (including perhaps a
critic) enjoys or wants a certain mood --- such as stronger staccatos or
longer fermatas. To some extent, a performer is supposed to care about
the audience.

> The question is, how does 'what the
> performer wants to say' get chosen?

*This* is the heart of what I hope we are discussing *after* we have
eliminated the situations above.

> But other aspects, such as what the
> performer wants to 'say' for his/her own
> satisfaction, are valid also (imo).

Yes, this is *part* of what I intended to say, and apparently we agree
to some extent at least. However I was (and I still am) focused on
"What the music demands" and "Conscious vs. unconscious".

> We need to look at the whole matter in a
> deeper way. WHO ARE YOU, when you
> play? Great players speak of 'transcending
> their personalities' in the act of performing. It
> is as though the music speaks through them.

Yes, *this* is the crux.

I view my musical emotions --- music is emoting in the sense of
delivering output --- as responses to what is printed on the page and to
my internal feedback when I play.

I simply do not understand --- that is, I cannot imagine --- my
personality not being part of this process.

> which involves including parts of yourself that
> are not under conscious control.

Yes, surely a portion of every person's "personality" is not under
conscious control. The fact that a person isn't aware of something
doesn't mean that the person isn't responding to it. (When I think of
the times that my wife became ecstatic or irritated for reasons which
she couldn't explain, and ditto for myself....)

The fact that a 'choice' does not happen at the conscious level is
interesting; but we are discussing the portion of ourselves that we put
into the music, regardless of whether we can give a precise explanation
of its source. Under some conditions, I can choose whether to satisfy
certain appetites even though I can't explain where the impulses come
from. The 'rightness' or 'wrongness' of such appetites does not depend
on them being either conscious or unconscious.

In fact, in some cases, my parents and my wife and even my kids bawled
me out for _not_ being aware of what I was doing. This is the opposite
of the process you describe for music.... namely, the opposite of
putting my conscious self aside and communing only with my unconscious.

> what the music demands

A piece of music 'demands' something of me only because I am the way
that I am. This 'demand' is an interaction between what's written and
what I am. The written music does not (necessarily) make the same
demand of someone else.

We could ask the same sort of question about whether a person enjoys
their back to be scratched, their beef to be cooked rare or blackened,
and so forth.

A large part of this discussion has been whether or not a renowned
performer has the ultimate authority. One way to decide this question
is on the basis of ticket sales and CD sales. Ditto for awards, chairs
in orchestras, and perhaps even reviews by the critics. I accept this.

*But* when the criterion becomes less concrete and less measurable ---
such as "what is right" or "what the music demands" --- we must make at
least some room for the performers' and the audience's personalities.

Without debating which style is better, K.622 'demands' something much
different from you than it does from Kell (unless you mean to say that
Kell wasn't thinking about what the music demands).

> But your playing is *not* yourself, in that
> characterisation of 'yourself'. You can't have
> your consciousness, or your ego, or 'how you
> play', drive your performance, because music
> is a partly conscious, partly unconscious
> phenomenon, like all art.

Here you've said that both the conscious and unconscious aspects of
personality are involved. I agree.

I cannot agree that either aspect should be excluded from the

> Getting your attention off your smaller self,
> what could be more appropriate than putting
> your attention on what you think the music
> may be asking of you?

I've already asked in a different way, but perhaps the following will
communicate the question more clearly:

Does music "demand" that my response be based only on aspects of myself
that I don't understand and perhaps cannot control? Does this mean
that a person who is conscious of a larger portion of his (or her)
personality is also doomed to be an inferior musician?

You have cautioned in the past about creating false dichotomies and
about asking unproductive questions. If we put aside the aspects that
I excluded in the beginning of this post --- such as obeying employer
and/or historical tradition, not being a vacuous show-off, etc etc ---
then I believe that the dichotomy between "what the music demands" and
"how I respond to the music" is a false dichotomy that leads in the
wrong direction. Ditto for equating "unconscious" with "what the music

> if you are prepared to have the great
> composers be your teachers.

Yes. This is the thought with which you began this thread. I hadn't
thought about it before you posted --- and hence your original post
stimulated me to think. I agree that composers teach players. In
fact, bad composers can teach also.... by negative example.


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