Thursday, July 22, 2010

Beyond the Page

Notes, rhythms, dynamics, phrase markings, tempi......all of these are clearly communicated to the performer on the page. Even when impeccable attention is given to the many details of the score, no two accomplished musicians will present the same piece in an identical manner. This truth speaks to the importance of the musical aspects which are not on the page -- those extra-musical ideas that we bring to the stage.

The importance of the unprinted musicality was made painfully obvious to my own ear recently. I am in the process of recording two CDs and have received an initial version of the Christmas album for preliminary review. As I prepared to listen, I was rather apprehensive because I recalled my emotional and physical state on that Thursday afternoon. My mind was filled with a laundry list of things that had to be completed in the closing days of the summer semester and my body was beginning to drag as a result of the many recent demands of church, home, and work. As I listened to the recording, my concerns were obviously justified; the playing was accurate for the most part, but it was flat, lifeless, and -- well, let's just cut to the chase -- quite BORING! This wasn't an issue associated with the recording technician or the quality of the instrument. The problem was that I was not in a place to communicate musically on the day of the recording.

Many musicians play their instruments with great technical facility and amaze us with their virtuoso displays. For me, such performances are thrilling in the moment, but their power is short-lived. I would rather listen to an interpretation that speaks to me at the deepest level -- one that expresses the unique ideas of the recitalist. In a perfect world, we never have to choose between artistry and technique. Sadly, I'm only human and sometimes find myself having to choose between technique and musicality-- we all do from time to time if we're willing to admit it. Without fail, I choose artistry. I choose to communicate with my audience through the music's voice rather than play merely the notes on the page. Without communication, my performance is nothing more than a metronomic regurgitation of the notes on the page that is no different from that of any second-rate pianist.

Needless to say, I'm arranging a date for another recording session. To get ready for this round of studio time, I am continuing to review notes and fix problematic passages, but more importantly, I am taking the time to rest so I am emotionally and spiritually prepared to musically communicate those messages that are most important to me.