Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Music Quickens Time

Today I am thinking about some ideas that I picked up in the book, Music Quickens Time, by Daniel Barenboim. This is a really thought-provoking book and is not an easy read, by any means. It is a philosophical exercise in many ways and Barenboim challenges the reader to deal with the why and how of their engagement with music.

Here is what I am thinking about today. Barenboim states that "music-making requires, inevitably, a point of view." Not a willful, subjective point of view, but one based on total respect for the information received from the printed page. He goes on to say that "a musician must always ask himself the following permanent questions: why, how, and for what purpose. The inability or unwillingness to ask these questions is symptomatic of a thoughtless faithfulness to the letter and an inevitable unfaithfulness to the spirit."

This is so true. Regardless of the difficulty of the music at hand, the style of music, or the age or playing level of musician, one must always ask each of these questions. Teachers must always encourage their students to ask each of these questions. For each without the other is fairly hollow. As a teacher, it is fairly standard to encourage kids to ask how to play a passage or technique. How is the easy part. But the how without the why and for what purpose is fairly hollow.

Similarly, if we focus on the why and for what purpose without a strong foundation in the how, we miss the beauty of true technique and accomplishment.

I think there is also a distinction between the why and for what purpose. Why can be "why do we use a particular technique," or "why does the composer use this harmony." But, for what purpose goes much farther in to the philosophy behind the music. It asks, "what should the music do to me and to you?"

I love all of these questions. I want my students to be thoughtful musicians. I want them to ask questions. I want them to ask how to make a passage work, both as an individual and as a group. I want them to ask why one bowing is better than another, why a particular sound or instrumentation is utilized in a piece, why a piece is in one key rather than another. And, of course, I want them to ask for what purpose we are playing and experiencing music. For, without this question, the others really don't matter. Do they?

I am really enjoying this book. I am taking it in small portions. It really requires thought and digestion. But, I highly recommend it. Something tells me, there will be more posts that reference this one in the future.

Until then.


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