I like to bemoan the lack of feeling in contemporary culture. It is only fair to point out exceptions: The living composers with whom I have contact do care, and care a lot, about my having pursued the work of one of their own who lived centuries ago.
It must have to do with the way the musician's mind works: including factors of the changing world we share along with connection to remembered music, and to the music we learned as children.
Of one thing I am constantly aware: what a difference it makes to have grown up in a musical household, which I did not. Those who do mature more confidently into a sense of mutual trust, of meaning.
If your child was being taught to read with the sole aim of correct pronunciation you would probably switch schools.
What about piano lessons? Most kids learn to read pronunciation without the slightest attention to meaning, which is sound sound sound as opposed to theory.
Today I taught a lesson to someone who, like myself, had been trained to pronounce. Once you learn that way it is difficult to give sound the priority it must have to make playing meaningful.
The song of the same title is one of the Gershwins' more haunting numbers, inviting all kinds of wonderful fantasies about the various dispensable things in this world.
It is, however, not a joke to find that I have grown into a world that literally no longer cares about the things that meant the most to me as I was starting out in life: the music of Mozart, for example. I know there is a trendy "thing" about playing Mozart to your baby, but that is not the Mozart I loved as a child, nor is it the Mozart for whom I have searched all my life, to such an extent that I vowed if I ever could play one single page of his from top to bottom to my own satisfaction I would have achieved all I wanted to achieve.
Well, I feel I have done it.
So said a music critic to whom I wanted to send my first unedited, live-performance CD (Haydn / Bartok). He couldn't grasp (why should he?) that it is the work of someone who has spent a lifetime countering the pernicious effect of recordings on her ear and the ears of those around her.
It has gone so far that recordings now affect the way pianos are built, the way piano technique is taught, not to mention the way piano music is played.
I know exactly what he is talking about.
I was so moved when the engineer mastering the CD told me that usually having listened to a recording as many times as he had to, he tired of listening to it, but not this one.
Thinking about consonance within Renaissance counterpoint, I recognize a problem that confronts the modern musician: We tend to hear and tune harmonies even within contrapuntal textures, thereby simplifying the music.
An alternative is to tune consonant intervals (octaves, say) within and around which dissonance may flow without danger of displacing the consonant octave.
Granted this requires split-second reflexes from the singers. But doesn't all music require responses that fast?
It's just that we need some notion to ground our responses.
Thinking about what it must have been like for an audience of young ears to sit so close to a piano being played in a pre-recordings style, i.e., with lots of audible overtones: I wonder what they actually made of it. Could they even say that it was different from the sounds they are used to coming from recordings or heard from the back of a large hall?
It's a gamble I take, that the sound quality will haunt them, whether or not they are drawn to it. What would keep them at a distance - a distance of their own manufacture - is the strangeness of it in comparison to the cool, vibration-free sounds to which they have become accustomed.
Because I sing a cappella from time to time, I know that the skill involves more than just the ability to sight-read: perhaps more than in any other genre of music-making one must be able to do so and listen at the same time. Otherwise one can sing the right notes and be out of tune at the same time.
The difference is overtones: Overtones are brought into play by two sometimes separate, sometimes unified elements: consonant intervals and vowel matching. A fine musician listens for consonant intervals which, in Renaissance counterpoint (like the Vittoria mass I heard this morning) are almost always somewhere to be heard, and for vowels matched by another voice, a function of the text setting.
Unfortunately, the voices that must be most sensitive to these factors are the top voices, soprano, tenor. If they don't recognize the occasional need to let resonance take over they sound simply shrill and out of tune.
As I write this I am preparing to perform for an audience comprised entirely of people who have never heard me play and who know nothing about me. What a splendid prospect.
It will bring out the very best in my love of my instrument. I want them to love what I love, whether or not they know it and regardless of what preconceptions they might bring to the experience.
That is what performance is all about. Nothing more. Nothing less.
P.S. The comment on the evening was yesterday's post.
Last night I had the uncommon pleasure of hosting my first groupmuse event: twenty brand new faces of all ages and backgrounds casually enjoying a drink and listening to some of my favorites on the piano. What a great idea!
I heartily recommend it. Visit the website; see what's happening in your town or your part of town. It's the best idea anybody has had in a long, long time.
Having supper at a terrific little Brazilian restaurant in the Village. Good food, nice people, and Brazilian music, of course, in the background. Suddenly an unrelentingly loud bass beat brings the music to the foreground and we cannot hear ourselves converse.
I like that beat, but that loud?
Could they please adjust the sound? Answer: No, sorry, it doesn't adjust.
So it's come to that. Bass always loud no matter what.
It is a sign of the times.