When I first started playing professionally in an orchestra many years ago, some interesting things happened. Life was a little different than I had imagined before that. Everyone’s experience is different; what happened in mine back then was, first of all, the job was a different experience than I expected. I had imagined musical excitement every day – what a dream to get to play music for a living! Well, sometimes. A good bit of it was, after a while anyway, pretty routine. A small part of it was sheer terror. But that part is not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about the other thing that started happening back then…
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. Normally graduation speakers speak at graduation, but we here at Horninsights have a different tradition: we give you your graduation speech on your first day of graduate school. We find that it reduces the occurrence of the moment that happens some time after graduation where you smack your forehead and say, “Man, I wish I would have known that before I graduated.” So, without further ado, here are the Horninsights Insights into what to keep in mind as you wend your way through these last years of formal musical training. Takes notes; there will be a quiz after class. Note: we do apologize for some of the points, which might seem blindingly obvious, but which, we have learned, are not always obvious to everyone.
1. Get really good on your instrument.
We are always interested in creating posts that make you think. Not necessarily agree (or disagree), but think. Much of contemporary culture (e.g. TV, movies, etc.) is intended and largely received passively. Blogs can sometimes serve as nets, harvesting interesting informational flotsam and jetsam from the great sea of the internet, but they can and should also serve to provoke thought and reflection about topics about which there may be no easy answer.
Today’s puzzler is inspired by several of Bruce Brubaker’s posts in his blog PianoMorphosis: what if musical scores are performed differently than the printed notes? One answer is the title of this post, taken from an anecdote related by Brubaker:
Once after I played John Cage’s Dream (from memory), some audience members were talking to Cage. Someone asked, “What would happen if the pianist got lost?” Almost instantly, and seemingly without thinking it over, Cage blurted out: “That would be wonderful.”
Brubaker’s point is that concert pianists memorize buckets of notes, and modifications to the original score may slip in over time in such quantity operations.
Let’s ask the question: if the player gives a skillful performance that in some way strays from the score (unintentionally or not) that is enjoyed by the audience, is this wrong? Or deceptive? Or (fill in blank with negative adjective)? Or is it okay? Or, even, “wonderful?”
A teacher once gave me an interesting answer when I asked him how I should articulate a certain passage in a Haydn concerto. He said, “Convince me.” Is it more important to be convincing than correct?”
You never know where or when an idea for a post is going to pop up. In this case, it was from an article from Wired.com entitled “Why Money Makes You Unhappy” by Jonah Lehrer (I think I prefer the saying, “Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure quiets your nerves”).
Lehrer says that once you’re out of poverty that how rich you are has little to do with how happy you are or how satisfied you are with life. The phrase “experience-stretching hypothesis” comes from Daniel Gilbert and says, in essence, that too much of a good thing reduces – even kills – the pleasure we once took in something when we only had a little of it. Food tastes best to a hungry man; one who is satiated finds little interest in even one bite of gourmet cooking.
When you work in a chocolate factory, they let you eat all you want, knowing that after the first week you won’t want to so much as look at a Hershey’s Kiss after that.
Lehrer cites the Amish, who live life very simply but who record very high levels of happiness. He compares them with modern consumers who chase after the latest car or electronic gadget but who aren’t any the happier for it.
It made me think about a life in music. In my early days of being completely committed to music study, I was ravenous for every bit of music experience. I couldn’t get up early enough, practice late enough, couldn’t wait until tomorrow to start all over again. Even after I got my orchestra job – dream of a lifetime fulfilled! – I still kept at it; I even practiced during orchestra breaks, for years. I was buffaloed by the attitude of a lot of the older players who had been at it for decades. They barely seemed interested in music at all. During breaks they talked about their new sailboat or car, not Mozart or Beethoven. When I came back from a week at a brass workshop, not a single person had any interest in my experience there. I declared I would never be like them.
LibraryMusicSource.com offers downloadable parts for orchestral music from composers from Abt to Ysaÿe (there’s no composer whose name begins with Z, that they have at least). Their usual prices are good, but they currently have a great offer good until June 30: you can download 40 sets of horn parts (or any other instrument if you like) for $20 ($19.95 to be exact). You can choose from a ton of stuff – Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Bruckner, Dvorak, Haydn, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Ravel, Schoenberg, Schumann, Sibelius, Strauss, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, and many more. Example: Richard Strauss, Alpine Symphony. This is ONE selection of your 40, and you get the parts (in pdf form; you have to print them out yourself) for Horns 1-4, offstage horns 5-7, Tenor tubas 1-4, plus Bass Tuba 1 & 2 (sic). 67 pages altogether! And you have 39 more selections to go! Your second choice could be Mahler Sym. 2, with parts for horns 1-10 plus offstage horn. 80 pages! 38 more to go!
After receiving a very useful comment (see below), I need to amend the above to say that the same (identical) scores mentioned and many others are in fact available from the IMSLP (International Music Score Project) for the grand sum of $0 in the same form – downloadable pdf’s. Library Music Source may save you a step or two by having all the parts easily accessible, but for only a little further ado, you can have them all for free. I am delighted to have been corrected in this. Check out the IMSLP at your earliest convenience!
“Everyone can learn from everybody,” Wegher said. “Everybody feeds off each other, everybody pushes each other. No matter who comes out on top, you know they’re going to be the best because they’ve been pushed.”
Brandon Wegher is a running back for the University of Iowa football team, but his words made me wonder: how can musicians use this kind of healthy collaboration to make them (and the “team”) better. And: in what ways is their situation different from ours, and what ways could we find to emulate their interaction so as to harvest more of this kind of positive team collaboration.