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Monday, March 30, 2009

Taking Responsibility for Their Own Environment

There are moment in my playing, or when I’m listening to others, that I sit back and ask, “Who’s in charge here?” The poor musician seems chained to the music stand, eyes unblinking under a furrowed brow, as they desperately grasp after the phrase. The problem is that the player is chasing the music rather than leading it.

Most of the time, this is symptomatic of an over-ambitious tempo. But there's another, more subliminal issue: we do not understand our role as a musician.

Music was written for us, we were not made for the music. So often the servants of our circumstances --heeding the bidding of our academic masters-- that we, as students, tend to assume the master/slave relationship of our youth is also the relationship between ourselves and our music (music that is usually assigned to us rather than picked by us). Therefore we humbly genuflect before our piece, graciously beseeching it to “go easy”. Then we start and it’s off to the races.

The bigger problem in this common scenario is that the we're not in control of our environment. We need to learn how to reign in the music’s perceived authoritarianism. That takes time. But in order to develop that confidence in my students, I’ve been engaging in a little experiment.

I don’t know if any of them have noticed, by I’ve been placing the music stand on the wrong side of my student at every lesson for a little over a month. For those of you non-musicians: when a musician plays, they need to face their audience, which means the music stand needs to be on their left. So I have purposefully placed the stand on their right side before they come into the room. My goal for this has been to see which of my students are willing to take take ownership (read: responsibility) of their environment and which of my students just take the environment as it comes.

It’s been fun to watch their reaction. Some will waltz up, grab the stand and move it to where it’s comfortable. Others (especially the younger students) will just put their books on the stand and hardly notice until I ask them to move it.

My goal, eventually, is that all of my students will get into the habit of quickly adjusting their environment until it’s comfortable. It’s a small thing, but a start.


Bisceglia Family said...

Very interesting and very true.
These issues have come more sharply into focus for me since I started playing pedal harp. I've played piano for nearly 17 years and lever harp for 8, but when I recently started playing pedal harp it was interesting to find myself back with some of those "beginner" problems. You see, I can flip levers as well as anyone in Portland and I love doing it, but start playing pedal harp and I have to bring another member of my body to play, my feet! I've experienced exactly what your talking about with the music running away from me because my fingers can play much better than my feet can change the pedals. Like you said, the number one thing is to slow myself down to the least skilled member of my harp playing ensemble, but there are also physical things I can do to take control, like go put on a different pair of shoes!
Great thoughts David!
~ Janna

lady greenleaf said...

Janna - I have a friend who plays a pedal harp and she always wears the same shoes whenever she plays. So whether she's practicing or playing an event, it'll be consistent. You may have heard this tip before, but if not...well, I may have said something helpful for once! ;D