MUSINGS: THE ARCHIVE
Why Do We Play Music?
The answer to this question is almost certainly different for each person - and different for each part of life. Something has to attract us in the beginning - sound, form, variety - but how does that attraction change as we grow and as others enter our music sphere? Is it changed by the feeling of stepping on stage and performing? Is it changed when we make music with others? Is it changed when we become part of an industry subject to a dizzying array of different interests? Our interest in music is like a living thing - capable of being nourished and encouraged, but also confused and intimidated.
What meaning do we give our work? Are we chasing after beauty? Hunting for perfection? Searching for individual truth and our worldview? Maybe we seek to entertain - sometimes others, sometimes ourselves. Is simple enjoyment the answer? Perhaps music-making takes on all of these goals and more. At the same time, how can we be sure that our intentions come across to someone else? The listener, by nature, filters what they hear through the prism of their musical experience and listening intention, reacting to the music and performance in their own distinct way. Crossing this gap between different conscious minds is impossible - yet we still try - maybe that’s the meaning of it all?
I’m endlessly fascinated by the art of subtlety. A tiny glint of a smile on an actor’s face; the slightest touch between two dancers in a ballet; a delicate curve in a musical performance that takes your breath away: what makes these moments so special? Maybe it’s how exact the expression is, where the performer knows their purpose so well - combined with the sensitivity of the moment. But why is it that the little things grab our hearts and take us to a different world, instead of the obvious things? For me, hearing a musical performance with great contrast and energy excites me - but hearing a performance with amazing subtle changes gives me goosebumps. Could it be that when we notice something subtle, our hearts latch onto it because we believe that moment is unique to us?
The Quest for Food
One of the unique challenges of traveling as a young musician is finding good restaurants in unfamiliar places. It’s hard to avoid the tourist traps, especially with a good dose of jet lag! On the other hand, finding a place where nobody speaks English - neither the waitstaff, other customers, nor the menu - can be problematic too. It’s such a special feeling to come across a real gem of a place: the rustic pizzeria in a back alley; the brewery that only locals know about; the hot pot that hits the spot...
I spent a few days in Munich last month, taking in its sights and sounds and reveling in its grandeur. It was awesome to explore an unfamiliar city and I loved being there, but it was oddly difficult to find satisfying food. I tried all my usual tricks: reading reviews, searching through side streets, asking locals for recommendations - but something was missing. On the very last day, with violin and suitcase in tow, I walked into a beer hall across the street from the train station, expecting typical tourist food, until suddenly...the perfect schnitzel! Light and crispy, yet hearty and filling - a total surprise. Sometimes what you’re looking for is exactly where you don’t expect it to be!
Teaching is Learning
I’ve been fortunate to study with brilliant teachers all my life. They nurtured my curiosity; taught me to tell stories; demanded more from me than what I thought was possible. I remember being amazed and mystified by the secrets hiding in their mind and the seemingly endless tricks they had up their sleeve. When they said something really special, I would always think, ‘How did you come up with that?’
And so it was with a curious mind that I ventured into the world of teaching for the first time. At first it felt odd to sit on the other side - as if at the age of 21 I had discovered something others hadn’t! The lessons became more natural as I realized that teaching is a conversation, a dialogue where the only goal is further exploration. It was a pleasant surprise to find that when I returned to practicing, my mind was more active and I listened more carefully. Suddenly it felt like I could hear my own playing from outside - and then I couldn’t stop saying to myself the same things I had told my students earlier! A quote from Itzhak Perlman, one of my own teachers, sums this feeling up perfectly: “When you teach others, you teach yourself!”
For a while now I’ve been curious about national styles in the performing tradition. Musicians from different nations generally have distinct manners of playing music. How did musical interpretation in different countries become so varied? Part of the answer lies in the music itself. Language and history defined each country’s music, and the music influenced what the musicians valued. Performers also had access to a limited range of works before globalization and mass music publishing, meaning that they interacted less often with ‘foreign’ pieces. But as the world became more connected and a canon of standard works was defined, why did musicians continue to hear music so differently?
Musicians today have the chance to explore many musical possibilities. Hearing recordings and embracing a vast repertoire is one thing - but we can also easily travel to find different training, learning new methods and experiencing other influences. Is there a way for musicians today to successfully bridge the gaps between wildly different interpretations without losing the strengths of those interpretations? Are we on the cusp of a generation which will bring together the best traits from all different perspectives to make music in a more complete way? Or are the differences necessary despite their flaws?
Changing of the Seasons
I like to think that each season is like a person - as you live longer they become old friends, and they have different stories to tell each time. I love when the seasons meet! It’s beautiful to see the first flower bloom, as winter becomes spring; to play the game of ‘how long can I keep the air-conditioning off’, as spring bursts into summer; or to hold onto that inescapable vibrance of a warm night, as summer fades into fall.
I had a strangely poetic experience this fall - it must have been early November - when I walked through Central Park in New York and saw a tree where half the leaves were flaming red-orange, and the other half had completely fallen off, leaving bare branches in their wake. Almost immediately I thought of Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen, which I then felt compelled to listen to. Strauss never envisioned or intended his work to be heard this way - on a mobile phone in the middle of a park in New York - but somehow it seemed right for the moment! I wonder what the next change of season has in store...
To be continued!