This week, I have been teaching/conducting the Bach Double Concerto with my orchestra. One of the all-important concepts that students need to understand is that of terraced dynamics. I use all kinds of illustrations to get this point across. Terraced dynamics are a vital component of effective and appropriate performance of any music of the Baroque era. (For those of you that aren't sure which composers that may include, think Bach, Handel, Telemann, Vivaldi.) My techniques include historical perspectives (all vs. one), social and religious philosophy of the era (good vs. evil), other arts (light vs. dark), and many others. It is certainly appropriate to give historical context to music learning and this is one of the primary components of the Baroque era.
It takes a great deal of mindfulness for a young orchestra to master this concept. Most commonly, young musicians commit to the concept for a brief period and then get lulled into some uninteresting place that we refer to as "mezzo." This is just some middle ground of volume that is generally uninteresting and is the opposite of the word we use for volume in music, "dynamic."
In order to realize a wonderful performance of any Baroque repertoire, the performer must fully and actively commit to terraced dynamics. The louds are very loud (all, light, good) and the softs are VERY soft (one, dark, evil). Note: I am actually not sure if good is loud and evil is soft or if it is the other way around. The important point is the contrast. Nothing in baroque performance is really mezzo.
Anyway, I have come to realize that we sometimes miss even the little things in teaching. I now know that I have to clearly articulate and define the word terraced. I often use the visual of terraced agriculture that I learned in elementary school where the farmer cuts terraces in the side of a hill to effectively plan his crops. There is no slope, only terraces. It is the same idea with the dynamics of the Baroque era. You can imagine my dismay when a student once asked me why they are called "terrorist" dynamics. One can even imagine how this mistake could be made with my good vs. evil analogy.
OK. My bad. I will always clearly define and explain the word "terraced" from now on.