Many aspects of music are intensified when more than one player is involved in the performance.  It is almost as if each player wants more from the others and also from her-himself.  I heard such playing last night, especially from a quintet of four strings plus clarinet: four completely different personalities, all excellent players, but one with more experience, therefore more courage than the others.  And this was the violist! - the musician who is the least likely to lead in such a group.

No longer able to play chamber music in public I am acutely aware of dialogue.  It brings home how difficult it is to make solo playing a conversation between not just listener and player, but in a larger sense, between composer and player.  This is probably hardest of all as it entails diving in, getting below the surface of the notes.
The other evening I heard performances by three different vocalists.  Two of them gave the distinct feeling of "nothing to do," while the third was radiantly present at every moment.  As I ponder the difference I put it to listening: the singer listening.
What does the singer listen for? In each case the singer was accompanied by another musician, except for a couple of self-accompanied songs by the one who was most present in the room.
But the main difference was the distinct feeling that the one was listening to the audience listening.  Is that audible?  You bet it is.

Between Beats


Finishing corrections on the Tonal Refraction rendering of Beethoven's Spring Sonata  I realize how much listeners miss when performers fail to call attention to the rests.  The rests in that piece are among the most amusing and the most clarifying in all of music, some of them so minuscule that you would think they couldn't matter, until they do.

All too often the electric silence between sounds gets mooshed over in the recording process where ambient noise is artificially introduced so that there should never be an instant of pure silence.  

Sometimes Beethoven puts the strong beat on just such a silence.

There are few pleasures as satisfying as being in such a room, especially if it is small enough and comfortable enough that there is no fear of audible responses from the listeners.  That was the case last night at an elegant supper club in the East Village where one splendid musician/wit performing for an audience that included new as well as old friends audibly knocked their socks off.  Giggles, under-the-breath Bravos! -- good signs of an attentive crowd loving every minute of it.
Interesting, especially because this performer prefers doing her thing abroad.  What is so hard about playing in New York?  Is it that New Yorkers have so little sense of humor about themselves?  
Reading the paper this morning I am amazed at how much news is interspersed with dollar values, whether or not the subject of the article is concerned with money.  In one case it was about a young man who shot BB gun pellets from the window of an apartment building.  Of course the selling value of the apartment figured in among the other, more relevant details of the story.
Maybe we just don't want to admit how silly we are.
I saw recently a TED talk in which an enthusiastic young computer musician was demonstrating the potential of a gadget he had invented, a sort of electronic ocarina, that would permit people to make music together -  his stated goal in making the thing.
I am all for people making music together: making noise together is an excellent start.  It becomes music the moment the people involved start paying attention to one another and actually playing off one another's sounds.
When my kids were really young we did this every day: water glasses, forks, spoons,  pots and pans:  the music we made turned into real music on many levels and continues to this day.  One develops an appetite for this particular sport, in which listening is key.

Dialogue: Teasing


Out of listening comes play:  The young man whom I teach who is severely disabled in many areas of physical and mental function has a sensitive ear.  He has finally, I think, grasped his capacity to vary elements in a piece of music so that they do not simply replay in his mind.  This is extremely difficult for anyone, but most especially for someone like him, for whom very few things in life are reliable.
His enjoyment of the Harmonious Blacksmith theme in Handel's variations has been an astonishing experience for me.  He calls it "Patterns" and is now capable of breaking it up into elements, not simply grinding out complete phrases always the same, one after the other.  
It has become possible for him to tease me, the listener.  
How true to the essence of good performance!
Last night I heard a beauteous performance of Haydn's Creation, a work I had never heard performed live, probably because, being for the most part through-composed, it is incredibly difficult.  It requires fully confident and competent orchestral musicians and singers, both chorus and soloists, plus a conductor (Louis Langree) who will let their confidence and competence ride out the fullest extent of the work's gigantic range.
Haydn begins with the sound image of the chaos that preceded the creation of the universe:  Now that is pure sound-thought if ever such a thing existed.

In Print


The ancient Greeks struggled with the transition from an oral to a written culture - a favorite reference on the subject is The Muse Learns to Write by Eric Havelock, a very readable small book on a very large topic.  In the book he noted that the recording is becoming the modern equivalent of the printed word.
How right he was!
Performances on recording are frozen in time and in approach.  
Much work continues to be done on the "meaning" of the written musical symbol, which is subject to so many variables that its actual "content"can never be determined once and for all but must be recreated for every era, for every ear.


Listening is Key


Listening is the key to all inter-personal comprehension - I hear the generalization as I say this and I hear its limitations:  the deaf, for example, do not hear.  So we could substitute for listening "paying attention."  
Someone - anyone -  really paying attention to you is, in effect, offering you an outlet for self-expression.  The opposite is also true: Someone - anyone - not paying attention to you is basically telling you to keep quiet.  
Isn't this the trouble we face as a democracy?  Individual voices that are not attended to, feeling forced to take to the streets as a mob in order for someone to hear what they have to say.
This morning I was describing to a neighbor the work I do with a blind, autistic, and severely developmentally-challenged young man.  The only thing I can really accomplish with him is to convey the power of listening and of being listened to.  Everything follows from there.
I think often of Grandma Moses, that extraordinary woman who was still painting at 101, whose works usually began with a frame, into which she would fit the board on which most of her smaller works were painted.
A lot of music programming is like that:  The frame comes first, usually in terms of a chronological order, the composer du jour, or a theme - a trendy one at the moment is "last sonatas."  Only rarely does the program reflect a train of thought based on sound, as Rubinstein's  all-Chopin programs invariably did.  I cannot forget their impact.