I’m working on some reading. I realized that my main reading is limited to articles and headlines on the Internets. I don’t have any bedtime traditional paper reading. I don’t know if the paper part is important, but it feels more tangible. Like reading a musical score on IMSLP, or having the paper score in front of you. It just feels better to have it right there. Pencil notes are so satisfying.
Anyhoo… I digress. I picked up this book from my friends at Steve’s Music in downtown Toronto: Intangibles of Musical Performance. It’s by Edward S. Lisk and he’s got a whole set of books under the series called “The Creative Director“.
Why I picked up this book? I’m looking for ways to coax musicality out of musicians in the orchestra. Periodically, while I’m conducting in rehearsal, I observe people going through the motions of playing the notes but I don’t feel anything from them. I don’t hear intensity in what they play and I don’t see them trying to convey an interpretation in their body language.
I felt like I was running out of ways to express what I’m looking for because the ensemble would often settle into mezzo dynamics and flatline in expression. I’d like to simply say ‘play the written dynamics’ but it’s not that easy (and that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to musical expression). There’s a lot going on for an instrumentalist: reading the music, hand-eye coordination, keepping tabs on the conductor, breathing, bowing, etc… so I can totally understand losing track of musicality at times.
But musicality is *very* important to performance – especially to live performance. The audience can hear *and* see what you’re doing. So you not only have to tell a story audibly, but also visually. And to me, body language is SO important. Consider this performance by Tafelmusik based out of Toronto:
Period baroque ensembles are fantastic examples of visual musical expression. For one, most of the musicians are standing. You inevitably get some dancing and posturing, often synchronized, which shows that everyone is feeling the music the same way. It reveals how much the musicians are ‘into’ and loving the piece they are playing. I think it also helps that period ensembles are heavily invested in performance style, so they take musical expression very seriously.
Back to the book that inspired this post … I took a break from it over the holidays, but I do recall the chapter on intensity. It was intense — no joke intended. It involves trying to teach students intensity, starting with exercises of two people intently gazing at each other and attempting to transmit feelings or thoughts through this exercise (no music). This is very important for conductor-musician communication in performance. The conductor should be able to convey a thought or mood via eye contact and body language. The chapter continues with having the student(s) play something as simple as a single note/chord, or a scale and to convey the intensity back to the conductor.
I’m looking forward to returning to this book, finishing it and revisiting earlier chapters to take it all in. I think my next choice in the series will be “Artistic Nuance”.