Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Tuning Slide 3.23- Becoming a Performer

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Everything that comes out of your horn must sound like music.
It’s then that you can call yourself a musician.
-From Eric Bolvin, The Arban Manual.

Perhaps one of the least mentioned ways of practice that will get us beyond mediocre is to stop practicing and always perform. The quote above is at the bottom of one of the lesson pages in the Arban Manual Study Guide by Eric Bolvin. The result of effective and dedicated practice is not being a technically good or even excellent musician. The result of that practice is that whatever comes out of your horn must sound like music. That is not as easy as it seems when written on the computer screen. It doesn’t take much effort to remember those awful days when we could hardly make “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” sound musical. With practice, Twinkle Twinkle can be as musical as a Miles Davis solo.

Becoming a performer of music is truly what all this practice is about. It gets pretty boring to never perform. Sure we may play some wonderful pieces and become accomplished at playing the trumpet. But it is the act of performing the music that shares the wonder of music with the world.

Way back in my earliest high school years as a trumpet player, I had a number of solo-type pieces and etudes from the method books that I liked to play. There were many times in my practice that I would imagine putting together a concert- a performance- for my family. In my mind I would pick out what the program would include and in what order. I would then practice as if I was actually performing them for the family. That more than anything else may have helped move me from the techniques of playing the trumpet into the joy of being a performing musician.

Gerald Klickstein whose website The Musicians’ Way has been the source of much of this month’s posts, talks about a three-step process of moving into the performance level. He looks at the progression we all do when working toward performing a new piece of music. He says the “material” goes through three stages:
Stage 1: New Material
• Get an overview.
• Make decisions section by section.
• Slow tempo.

Stage 2: Developing Material
• Refine interpretation.
• Increase tempo and problem-solving.
• Memorize.

Stage 3: Performance Material
• Practice performing.
• Maintain memory.
• Renew and innovate.
As I have seen it in my own practice, this does work in a clear progression. The overview is when I scan the music for the first time. What’s the key, the range, the key changes, the tempo? Maybe I sing or hum through it. I look for the harder appearing sections and make note of them. I also know that just because it looks hard doesn’t mean it is hard. Play through it - keeping it slow. At this point I am looking for the way the music flows and moves. I am trying to make it sound musical. I try to be conscious of the sections and how the music changes from one to another or maybe circles back to something earlier. I am getting the music to fall under my fingers at this point.

The second stage, letting the music develop, is when I “know” the music but haven’t figured out how to interpret it musically. I might experiment with different tempos or figure out why my fingers refuse to cooperate on certain passages. As I said a couple weeks ago I am not good at memorizing so I don’t usually do that part of this stage. But the goal of “performing” the piece has to be there- even if it’s a new Goldman exercise or Clarke etude. The aim is always to make music- be a performing musician.

The third stage for me is putting it all together. It will now become performance! It cannot remain just another piece for the practice room even if I know it will never be performed anywhere else. That is the “practice as if you are performing” injunction. I sometimes react to myself “Would I want an audience to hear it that way?”

What I am talking about is simply to make sure I move beyond being just a practice room musician. The particular etude or exercise will most likely never be a public piece, unless I record it and put it on Facebook or something. But what I learn and experience in doing this with all my practice will carry into other things I do. That is why we practice things other than our performance pieces. That is why we may do the same routine with variations every day for weeks, months, or years. We are transforming everything into music so when we come to the musical pieces we will play them musically.

It’s back to Self One and Self Two and how our brains work. It is back to easing the performance anxiety of Self One trying to take the negative road and undermining what we can do. It’s about Self Two learning and showing that we can do it. It is taking charge of the music since it is the “natural” musician.

This is being a performer. It is how to live.

There is a You Tube video titled Transform Yourself Into a Performer. (Watch it below.) It is by concert pianist Alpin Hong in a TEDxLaSierraUniversity talk. In the enjoyable presentation he talks about
  • Being self-conscious and still projecting self-confidence.
  • If they’re in your audience, they want you to succeed. They are on your side!
  • Thoughts on making mistakes- yes, we all make them. He even quotes Monk. His answer is to improvise, i.e. know your piece well-enough that if you get lost, for example, you can make your way back to the right place.
That is what we are all about. Performing. We want to truly make music. It doesn’t just happen by chance, but it is certainly within our grasp.

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