Practical Aspects of Notation
The principle is simple: Never add muscular pressure going up the staff. A positive axiom in the matter is: Don't go to a “high” note; go through the “high”note to the cadence. To add pressure induces tension, and then the instrument will not speak or play freely because the tension takes the performer off the instrument, whether vocal or instrumental. The result, rooted in tension, lacks style and depth of feeling and falsifies the composer's emotion inherent in his or her ideas. What matters is the emotional weight of the beat or subdivision thereof in the measure.
One must feel the music and speak words but never sing the music. One must feel the music and play one's instrument but never play the music. One must sing or play rhythmically (accurate subdivisions emotionally felt) and never sing or play rhythm. One must feel first beats and never sing or play first beats accentually. One must feel all other beats and never sing or play them without reference to the weight of the first beat of both that bar and the first beat of the next bar.
A felt first beat is an impulse to musical expression that is free. The more deeply felt the first beats, the freer the expression will be. Feeling the first beat of the bar emotionally regardless of the structural accents in the rest of the bar that result from thicker textures in the writing or dynamic accents always gives more buoyancy to the line. Those accents will take care of themselves and expose their expressive power in the longer line without added physical pressure. The principle applies especially to attacks of phrases that begin on the second beat after a first beat rest. When a piece starts with a rest, the weight of the beat inherent in the rest has an emotional impact on the attack.
What is printed upon the page or part of a musical score are symbols, not concrete realities. One must feel an emotional inflection and never sing or play a note. The printed note represents a feeling. One must never hold a note, but instead elongate a vowel or pitch emotionally. The best way to do this is to keep the chin down by releasing it to gravity (or the jaw hinge or the lower back teeth or whatever technique benefits the moment). Rhythm is not muscular reaction; it is a feeling, even when performing twentieth century music. The relative weight of beats in a bar has to be felt, never calculated.
Singsong (a result of singing or playing notes - one sees it in self-conscious children) tightens the chin and causes problems for the neck and the jaw muscles. The converse is that both a relaxed throat and a chin kept down by letting go of the jaw muscles will help to keep speech emotional when it is subject to the longer sustained lines of music. The decay inherent in emotional speech and instrumental sustention will function naturally without intellectual control if the chin (or whatever) continues to be released to gravity. While this is a reality for singers and wind players, it is also an important feeling for string players, keyboard players and percussionists because it helps maintain the release of the self .
A clarification is needed here in the matter of the chin. It does not of itself have muscles; it is merely the prominence of the lower jaw. However for ease of teaching it is easier to speak of keeping the chin down,
i.e. releasing it to gravity. (The release of the jaw hinge does not guarantee the release of the jaw muscles that control the lower jaw.)
Gravity having been mentioned, a principle can be formulated that states that gravity is everyone's best friend. Here and elsewhere in this book, references are made to the release of the jaw hinge, the chin, the lower back teeth, the back, and underneath the back of the skull. This release to gravity allows the body freedom from tension at its root: irrational fear of not doing everything right, nervousness in front of an audience, and all the other physiological and psychological processes that cause tension to creep in. Experiencing the body released to gravity continues the experience of releasing the self to give the emotional parameters of the score more freedom to operate in and through the performer. The same applies to instrumentalists. Gravity is our friend.
To resume: A note on the staff is a mental concept. The pitch that it represents will happen as a result of the vowel or the application of the instrument actualizing the concept. This must be emphasized at all times in our present society which perceives a printed note as a concrete reality to be duplicated by its own means. It has no means of its own.
Singers must concentrate on the vowel. To concentrate on the result (the music or the sound of the voice) prevents the desired result because the attention is not on the vowel which produces the result. The voice produces the result of musical sound. Instruments produce the result of musical sound; the printed page cannot. Sound is a result of bodily feelings activating the instrument. Concentration on the result instead of the cause sends the entire process askew. The only way to achieve a result is to concentrate on the process that produces the result. Bodies make music, not brains and not instruments. Brains allow awareness of feelings to allow the body to achieve more comfort when playing or singing.The idea should provide the answers to the question posed at the beginning of the first chapter: What did singers and conductors fail to observe in Verdi's scores? One cannot walk out of the house while standing in the back yard.
For all singers and instrumentalists: One must never make effects. The composer made them and his creation will come alive in re-creation if one doesn't get in his way with one's idiosyncratic interpretation of his intentions. The score gives the performer, even in the simplest recitative, what the composer wants. (This does not deny tasteful embellishment or intelligent continuo playing.)
The music of great composers has that great depth of character, which is missing in commercial music and most modern church music. It should be allowed to express itself unfettered by egotistical tampering. Paradoxically if one performs mass market material with simplicity allowing it to express whatever depth it has inherently, it will reward everyone in the same manner that better music does, though admittedly it sometimes needs help. Most of it is, after all, written in common practice notation. It just does not give a musical experience as deep as that of better music. This idea needs to be the subject of meditation.
The time signatures of the great composers mean something and must be trusted. Everyone must feel the beats in a measure using the signature as a guide to the proper feelings of the musical ideas. It takes practicing humility before the score but it pays off with longer, more expressive lines.
Since rehearsal and practice are a matter of releasing the self more and more each time the music is read, then it follows that there may have to be adjustments made for the level of competence and the amount of rehearsal time. This principle is, like all the principles in this work, not a matter of Olympian precept from on high, but rather a guide to deeper, more meaningful and more appropriate feelings.
Further, the great composers are trustworthy in everything. However, history and musicology are important! A score of Bach is the most complete and thorough score ever put on paper, even the recitatives, more complete than the most fastidiously notated score of any great composer of the twentieth century. This axiom also must be pondered long and well.
Performers never must not do something not to do something, but must always find an active and positive expression to avoid a deleterious technical or musical result. For singers and wind players, speech is that positive thing. One must not hold back to avoid adding pressure going up the staff ; one must positively feel the point in time of the musical line. This means not backing off the instrument to give a weaker inflection to a higher pitch on a weaker beat. To back off is intellectual and muscular control; feeling the music causes the correct muscular response.
Performers must never sing or play technique at listeners, nor make technique the instigator of musical sound. Technique is the means of getting the notes out more easily and is a result when one speaks whether with voice or with instrument. One may not tell people how difficult it is to sing or play a piece. Rather, the audience must always be shown how easy it is to perform. It is easier to share an emotional experience that way.
One must never crescendo a note. Singers must crescendo the vowel and release the chin to gravity. In doing so, neither the vowel nor the chin will spread thereby causing the singer to go off the voice. Instrumentalists will be able to maintain the center of the tone more easily during a crescendo if one feels the pitch getting louder instead of thinking the note getting louder. In other words, one must stay with the voice or instrument and not concentrate on the effect it is supposed to make. A crescendo mark over a whole note in piano writing gives a specific emotional weight to the next note. In other words, a crescendo or diminuendo is a matter of neither volume nor decibels, but rather of feeling. When a crescendo occurs on a line of pitches going up the staff , the secondary beats and all subdivisions will get louder, but they must not get more pressure. This cannot be accomplished by brain power; it can only be accomplished by feeling. And herein lies the source of subtlety and artistry so lacking today!
Unless the passage is marked martellato, accented notes do not all take the same weight. The accented note is as much a feeling as any note and should not be thought of as loud. In the matter of loud and soft, it should be noticed that decibels can only be measured after the fact; before the fact they have to be felt. In other words, loud and soft are a matter of emotion, not volume.
Accents without feeling result in an overly rhythmic approach, and the imposition of rhythmic accentuation upon linear music falsifies the style. We have discussed the harmful effects, upon both musical expression and performers, when accent becomes an intellectual concept that willfully actualizes the musculature of the body without reference to emotion. This also must be pondered.
A sequence must not be played or sung with the idea that it is a sequence. It serves a specific formal function and will express its fullness of meaning only by playing each repetition with more or less intensity - less, going up the staff, more, going down the staff. Further, when the motive repeats in the same bar, its relative weight to the first beat will enhance the depth of expression as well.
One must never play or sing on time, rather sing or play in time. This must be carefully considered. The problem was discussed above in chapter 1 in the section on articulation.
Performers must never listen to themselves sing or play, but rather feel themselves singing or playing. If it is comfortable and easy, the resultant music will move the listener more than just beautiful sound will. Sound for its own sake is just that. Moreover, when one goes for sound, one manipulates the instrument to achieve quality which is thereby subject to control. Control, by definition, means that the music will lack freedom. Music is what we desire, not sound. Sound is not music.
In practice and performance, if the last time was a satisfying musical experience, one must never try to duplicate it. Music is an emotional art and therefore is never and will never be perfect -- nor will it ever be the same. All performers differ from one experience to the next because the emotional response has changed and enlarged from the last time. Practicing is a deepening of emotional response to the piece being learned to which the body responds with more and more technical ease and assurance. Practice does not make perfect and has nothing to do with perfection. The principle is: It is good to do it, hopefully it is better than the last time, and at the moment it is the best possible. But it will always be a matter of feeling good, not doing something perfectly.
Pitch must not be corrected by thinking pitch. Pitch is vibration. Therefore pitch is corrected with feeling. This too must be food for thought.
The role of the conductor is to guide people into a feeling. Telling them what to do leads to muscular tension.
In the eighteenth century, social music (especially opera) was conducted from the keyboard or from the first violinist's chair. This fact will help dispel the idea that the orchestra or chorus is the conductor's instrument to control, to fulfill his or her musical intentions. Performing an opera, oratorio, or symphony is a social function in which all share a common experience; the leadership exercised is one of emotional guidance--not of demanding tasks to be done by the performers nor of correcting the quality of sound from note to note.
The premise leads directly to the idea that a performer should never do what the teacher or conductor says. Instead the performer must process and transcend the limitation of another person's words to a viable understanding of one's own instrument. In other words, an emotional response must be found rather than an intellectual one. The operative word in that statement is response.
All musicians reading continuous eighth notes must always play subdivisions weaker than their beats and second, third, and fourth beats weaker than the first. Otherwise 4/4 becomes 8/8, the tempo will be too slow, the line will disappear, and the effect will be too heavy. Then the sound will be controlled to hide the inherent weakness of a stylistic misrepresentation.
Compound meters are especially challenging -- 6/8 time must never be reduced to two bars of 3/8. The most challenging is 12/8 time, but patiently working out the feeling of it is rewarding. The hardest time signature of all is Schubert's Ave Maria when sung in German, because the beats are inordinately slow. Nonetheless, it can be worked out expressively in four and, when expressed sensitively in four (not in eight from the half beats of the accompaniment), is one of the most riveting experiences in music.
Beating in subdivisions in seventeenth and eighteenth century music makes the music too slow. In eighteenth-century music, there are time signatures that are problematical: for instance, the first movement of the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto and the opening movement of the Credo of the B Minor Mass.
Beating those two movements in two is hard, but working them out in two is worth the effort. Any other time signatures that are problematical can be worked equally well. The Gloria of the Missa in G Major of Bach, for instance, is marked vivace in two, but the sixteenths will be impossible in a fast two. When conducted in a fairly fast four, the effect will be leaden. The best solution is a slow two, which will leave a feeling of vivace with charming lightness.
The first movement of Beethoven's C Sharp Minor Sonata (Moonlight) is marked in cut time. We usually hear it played in 3/8, each bar reduced to four inexpressive triplets. How flexible that accompaniment becomes when each bar is played in two beats with felt subdivisions!
In the matter of tempo, before starting the piece, one should hear mentally the speed of the fastest passage and transfer it to the opening theme. Tempo will always benefit from this in performance because in practice the music will cohere as the composer felt it.
Conducting the melody is carrying coals to Newcastle; more attention to the depth of expression of the inner voices and the bass line supports the melody more. Melody that is left to its own devices will be freer and more powerfully moving the more it is nourished by everyone else's care for their relationship to it.
Singers and instrumentalists should never give attention to the accompaniment. A solo line must be free on its own terms and not be subject to the accompaniment's processes which can have different intentions from the solo line, for instance to contrast, to underscore, or perhaps to create tone painting.
Schubert's songs are mostly notated without dynamic markings in the voice part; the markings generally appear in the piano part. The singer must speak the poetry according to the notational stresses and thus create a spun line in which the piano is an integral but separate partner.
An egregious example of singing the accompaniment often occurs in performances of Mozart's Exsultate, jubilate. In the Alleluia, at bar 135 and again at bar 143, the orchestra is marked forte on the down beats, but Mozart did not indicate the same for the singer. When the singer gives too much weight to the voice at the attack of the first syllable to sing the accompaniment, the usual final (unMozartean, by the way) high notes on the staff always are a chore. To attack the word "alleluia" with emotional inflection of speech and let the orchestra do its job will result in a richer exposition of Mozart's depths and less wear and tear on the voice.
Keyboardists and percussionists playing melody instruments (e.g. marimba) should let the left hand lead. The right hand is the stronger and more sufficient of the two, and the left hand is the weaker because the left brain (the mechanical side of the brain) controls the right side of the body. One's playing will acquire more power without extra physical exertion if the left hand leads.
Music is a right brain function and, if it has not been shifted to the left brain through analytical processes, it follows that letting the left hand lead will allow the musical expression more depth, since the right brain (which controls the left side of the body) is the poetic side of the brain.
When practicing a fugue, it helps to sing out loud either the alto or the tenor line; depth of expression will be enhanced. Even in harmonically accompanied melody, finding an inner motion to sing, rather than playing the melody without awareness of the accompaniment's function, enhances expression. It is wise to remember that Mozart preferred playing the viola in quartets.
To orchestrate while practicing and even performing is a helpful tool. If there are parallels, imagine two or three of the same instrument; counter melodies become more expressive when imagined for two contrasting instruments. Imagination in color is limitless and poetically viable; certainly Berlioz and Ravel are among the greatest who proved that. However, this skirts the edge of interpretation, which is not the subject of this idea (see below).
For all performers, relaxation is not nearly as profitable or reliable as letting go of one's self and one's controlling nature. (Gravity is our friend.) Control is a mode rooted in fear; how can fear be the impulse to beauty? Paradoxically if one must control something, one can control the release of the self . Although after a while even that will distract from musical ends, it will at least in the beginning teach the first steps to serving musical purposes.
The hard part of musical performance is the concentration upon emotional balance. When that is reduced to muscular control, the music will desert the performer and result in hard physical labor.
Students must never imitate what they hear in recordings. One's musical personality, like all aspects of personality, is unique, and the relationship between one's musicality and the composer's creation is also unique. No one else will ever duplicate it, not even the same performer. Dead music is not mummified or ossified; it lives in the performer and it nourishes both the performer and the audience anew in every performance.
Notation is abstract; that means that one must embody it in practice and performance. The musical result will differentiate one performer from another and give listeners differing perceptions of the same piece of music. In other words, interpretation is the art of letting things alone so they can speak to and through the performer. Then the interpretation is a partnership between performer and the composer rather than subjugation of the composer.
Perhaps this is the best place to discuss the function of the eyes in reading music. Singers and players are often fixated on the note(s) they are sounding in a seemingly eternal act of checking the moment. Moving the eyes ahead acts as a release to allow the attack of every note to be free of physical control and makes the letting go of the self easier, for the focus of the mind is not restricted to a momentary judgment. An effective pedagogic tool for teachers is to move a small piece of paper to cover the next note just before the student plays it. Over a period of time, if the paper is moved further forward to cover more notes to make the student read further ahead, the student will have much more smoothness not only of the attack but of playing in general.
A further difficulty resulting from constant checking is that, when the performer is listening to what he or she is doing at any given moment, the imaginative ear cannot function to hear the forward motion of the piece. The imaginative ear allows performers to recreate "dead" music effectively and freely.
Teachers of singing and wind instruments must be mindful of their students' bodily alignment because, by definition, line or musical linearity is not possible if the performer is off his or her alignment. Specifically for wind players, the instrument must be brought to the embouchure; the head must not move forward to meet it. Without this awareness, the musical results as expression must become work. Every student that I have coached has said that they feel the music comes out so much more easily.
The section in chapter II on breath is as important for wind players as it is for singers. The admonition to get more air is insufficient. Proper inhalation and proper alignment together produce opulent, flexible, and buoyant tone as well as linear expression.
For coaches, nothing drives teachers up a wall worse than a coach teaching their students by referring to their technical processes, especially their shortcomings. However, it should be obvious by now that if technique and notation are at cross-purposes, music suffers, and so does the student. First, the fable in the preface of the book not being a fantasy, the principle of teaching the cause instead of the effect of the music is paramount for teachers, coaches, and conductors. This means that coaches must refer to the student's technical requirement as rooted in the emotional needs of the music, not in the supposed physical demands of technique.
Second, what coaches have to be aware of is the axiom that music is not a manipulable commodity. The performer's comfort is paramount, and there are times, if the technical preparation is inadequate, the coaching must be done in such a manner that the performer is not aware that technical matters are being brought in line with the demands of the musical expression. The principle is: If a certain effect is wanted, one must ask him or her or them to feel something else to produce it (usually getting the performer on the alignment of the body and on the breath will be the most obvious thing to coach). But performers must not be asked to do something physical. That will take them from their feelings and leave them stranded in their brains rather than emotional awareness.
I attended a recital of a most gifted singer. The singer studied with one of the best teachers of healthy technique and was accompanied and coached by one of the best and most sensitive pianists in the city. Yet the result was disappointing for the singer was manifestly uncomfortable, and the teacher complained that the student was off the breath all evening. But what was heard that entire evening was that the pianist, a sensible person who played quite musically with emotional sensitivity, had coached the singer to do intellectual things: by stressing words that were not first beats; by thinking loud and soft as quantity instead of emotion; by accenting this and that; and by generally reducing the music to limping and controlled phrasing, because the effects were sought instead of the feelings that lead to those effects.
Sensitive conductors of second-level orchestras are especially challenged in the matter of bringing notation and technique into their proper relationship.The constant adjustment of the sound is by definition unmusical. Attention to the emotional processes of the body will be far more rewarding to all (especially the audience).
To begin the learning process, it is current practice is to learn the notes and rhythms and then polish. But if the notation of the common practice period includes the feeling of the music as well, it is simple logic to include it in the beginning of the learning. Indeed, it is probably more important to work the emotional aspect out first, because the notes and rhythms come more easily from emotional expression. Seek first the phrase and the rest will be added unto you.
For singers, it means learning the text first. The idea has been a truism for a long time with most voice teachers. However, they do not carry it far enough, because the emotional stresses of the composer are not emphasized from the first beats. Indeed the habit of our times is to stress the accented word or syllable that is higher in pitch or longer in duration (or whatever else may turn the performer or teacher on), but it leads to poor phrasing and technical problems.
Instrumentalists can also learn the emotional contours of any piece in the same way. Indeed, linear progression in phrasing depends on it. Otherwise the player spends endless time playing notes until they are under the fingers or whatever (i.e.: under control) and the fullness of emotional expression never happens.
Furthermore, when the learning process is rooted in the notes instead of the feelings, the brain is constantly checking to see if the notes are right; but the checking is inimical to the musical line. The note becomes momentarily set in concrete, and that stops the forward momentum of the line. Conversely, when the emotional aspects of the piece are learned from the beginning, the learning of notes becomes facilitated by the musical inner ear which allows tonal relationships to develop simultaneously (hence the term, common practice period).