Contrary to popular belief, routine practice may make perfect but it doesn't necessarily breed meaning.  Fooling around may accomplish meaningful perfection of a looser sort, and where would American music be without that?  
Many kids quit piano lessons because their parents needed them to practice more than made sense.  Sometimes parents try to enforce such behavior in the name of good parenting.  
Kids who are not required to practice are more likely to nurture their private musical selves.  All they need is an in-tune piano to stimulate their imaginations and to attach them eventually, with a bit of guidance and good luck, to Beethoven and such.
I have seen it happen again and again.
 
 
Why should anyone assign utterly world-shattering pieces to kids in their teens?  Just because they can (more or less) play the notes is not sufficient reason.  It's bad enough that we stumble upon such music as immature musicians; at least we have our own bafflement to consider as part of learning.  
But why such utterly inappropriate pseudo music-making should be featured in a music school's gala performance is beyond my comprehension.   It belittles us all.
I described this to an alternative instrumentalist who had occasion to hear an 11 year-old billed as a jazz prodigy in a recent festival in Israel.  The kid was playing late Thelonius Monk.  My friend's reaction was parallel to mine:  Why?  What good does this do to all concerned: the kid, the audience, the music, Monk?

 
 
Sound, like color, is extremely difficult to define.  It is getting harder and harder to do so as people are farther and farther removed from actual sound.  We have all become so accustomed to canned green beans that we wouldn't know the real thing unless, for some reason, we found ourselves in France when they are in season and tasted them as nature intended.
Unless we encourage each other, and most especially children, to relish the finer details of listening, sound as defined, explored, and enriched by music will perish.  The finest details in sound are responded to by children, by slow learners, and  by amateurs whose goal is to have joy as opposed to imitating recordings: people who are in no hurry to produce gloss instead of substance.
 
 
If it isn't valued by one's culture is it worth pursuing?  
Think of "it" as one's dearest dream.  
Not having something for which one is willing to sacrifice a lot must be the greatest imaginable sadness.
Now it seems to be just money, money, money.
 

Reading Music

04/25/2015

 
I will begin by saying that there is no such thing.  Music is music only when it is heard.  A skilled musician may internally hear something resembling pitches when reading a score in silence, but the resonances of those pitches can be heard only in real sound, or by the memory of real sound.
Most piano students are taught to "read music" as a matter of motor control, as in: "This dot means that finger on the proper key."  
Sorry: That's not the point.
 
 
One of my students is blind, autistic, non-verbal, and severely developmentally challenged.  I have no idea how to deal with such an array of problems, so I do not attempt to do so.  I do know that he is a human being, and capable of emotion.  Whether or not he can express emotion in any bearable manner is the only thing I can address through our shared experience of the sound of the piano.
What do the other students learn from observing this?  Would it even be possible to say what it might be?  
One thing is sure: They know what it feels like to watch someone pay attention in a way that is otherwise beyond their power to imagine.   
 
 
The same issue confronts the therapist in any of the above fields: Is the goal to make the client conform or to bring out the unique identity of the individual?  
Similarly with teaching: To what extent is it a good idea to nurture the individual child as opposed to producing what I once heard a college president describe as "a bunch of identical peaches with a warm fuzz all over?"
The urgency of the question becomes clearer as more and more recordings of some of the greatest music ever written sound essentially the same.
 
 
After a recent performance someone noted that I had programmed the pieces in reverse chronological order.  I do that on purpose, in performances as well as in teaching.  18th -century culture, unlike ours, was essentially quiet.  In stillness one can hear and respond to overtones to which our attention must be drawn as the noise around us increases.  
I notice this in liturgical settings:  Within a focused stillness even people with limited musical awareness comment on the rich sound produced by just a few voices singing perfectly in tune:  overtones.
There are always overtones on the piano.  The trouble is that we are not encouraged to hear them (much less to deal with them), as they are highly variable from instrument to instrument and according to changing circumstances.
More recent music arouses awareness of overtones so that, by the time the 18th or earlier century is the subject, people are more likely to be moved by the unwritten aspects of the sound - the magic.
 
 
Much has already been written on the subject of how competition merely serves to level achievement at a level of recognition already experienced (musical deja vu, if you will).  But what if the artist has a unique voice?  What if the composer brings truly new insight into the realm of tone?  
In terms of competition, absence of a standard by which to measure can only mean failure to measure up.
What standard applies to originality, to genius?
 
 
Beethoven wrote not-often-played variations on Rule Britannia.  I think I know why: In this unlikely piece Beethoven explores what happens to a tune when it is expressed not as a tune but broken up into distinctly diverse durations  scattered unexpectedly throughout the texture.   You never know where a long note is going to impose itself on the forward-moving rush of the work.
Result: Everyone laughs out loud.