Friday, November 09, 2007

That is total TP.

After posting a bunch of angsty stuff about playing and being new in town (geeze, I've been here more than a year- why do I still feel new?) and such, I have run into several interesting conversations both in real life and through the laptop.

One of the opera's violinists is moving out of state and has decided not to audition for the local stuff where she's headed. Instead she'll take a non-music degree at the university, which will give her a scholarship for playing in the orchestra. Sounds great, I smiled and nodded, but THEN she said, "I came to terms with the fact that I was at the peak of my playing a few years back and could do nothing more about it, and I just don't want to work up an audition for groups I'm not sure will interest me." She is a whopping 42 years old.

That first thing, about the peaking? Scared the crap out of me. I have never thought this way, ever. Thinking about this Theory of Peaking (TP), I realize that not only do I disagree, but I'd like to live my life in a way that disproves it. Who doesn't want to see themselves as a better artist ten years down the road? How is it possible that playing a musical instrument, which is a time-based artistic expression involving a billion jillion variables, would suddenly NOT be able to change? Geeze, if I ever feel that I think I will walk away from the music stand and put up a viola for sale sign right then and there. (Unless I'm playing with Bjork or the Orpheus. Then I'd wait until after the gig.)

I think we get better the more music we encounter. Or the more co-performers we adapt to, or the more we discover what it is that really turns us on or off. Actually, I know it's worn out but I'm pretty sure that the things we encounter everyday have a profound effect on our artistic lives. Not just how we deal with people or what we choose to play, but how we play and hear everything.

Every teacher worth his salt (and many who are not) uses little stories, images, similes and metaphors. Passages become icey, dancing, hot, fat, shy, you name it. I was once thoroughly embarrassed when I went to play for a (male) famous violist at about age 20 and he saw the word "Sexy" written over a tie in my Bach. (My teacher was a little out there at the time...) Who hasn't had a chase scene, courtship, argument suggested to them in a chamber music coaching? We live to make context*, and if you have more stories to draw from, it stands to reason you will have better stories to tell. That alone invalidates the TP. And I haven't even gotten to the technical aspects of playing.

I remember when I was about 16 I went to my first "real" music festival (the defunct Johannessen International School of the (snarky) Arts in Victoria, BC) and there was this Russian hot-shot violin teacher in his 60's who everyone worshipped. Isn't there always? Everyone thought he was amazing, and the thing they all said was that he got better with each year. I remember hearing him practice scales & arpeggios every single morning across the quad: it didn't sound like just "maintenance" to me. He continued to improve, technically, well into his seventies. But what if you don't think you can do that?

Another great example of the anti-peak is Karen Tuttle. I studied with her in my undergrad in weekly studio classes, and I'm going to be completely honest. She was a great person of spunk, and taught some people incredibly well, but by the time our paths crossed she had lost some control of her small motor skills leaving her unable to play "well". But! I still enjoyed some of the things she demonstrated in class, in particular when she would show the range of colors she wanted in a certain phrase. Her playing not only still had merit, I would lay money (no coupons, even!) that for her purposes it was better than it had been in her youth.

Yet another pivotal teacher of mine lacks the kind of rich, deep, consistent sound you might expect from a person of their professional stature. However, every musical idea this person attempts is transmitted with such striking clarity that audiences are utterly convinced of the truth in the interpretation. The pieces are better for this person playing them, and there's a healthy cult following of the violist's career and teaching. I love to listen, and I fully expect that they would choose to play differently 5 years from now, because they consciously make sure their playing continues to evolve.

Anyway, I love when I get stuck on an idea or am in the throes of some funk and God dumps 14 examples of other folks' thoughts in my lap. These conversations have been so specific and unexpected (the TP chick and I were merely discussing which of her plants still needed homes) that I can't get around them with a label of "coincidence."

*We can talk about concrete music at a later, hopefully less verbose, date.

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