Friday, June 29, 2007

Musical Stewards?

I once played a performance of a piece for violin and piano written by a young (and rather talented) composer. I told him that I really don't enjoy performing my own music, and that I much prefer playing concerts of music written by other people. His answer was something like "other people are better stewards of my music that I am." I had never heard anyone refer to a person playing a piece of music as its "steward."

I looked up Steward in Merriam-Webster and found the following definitions:

1 : one employed in a large household or estate to manage domestic concerns (as the supervision of servants, collection of rents, and keeping of accounts)
3 : a fiscal agent
4 a : an employee on a ship, airplane, bus, or train who manages the provisioning of food and attends passengers b : one appointed to supervise the provision and distribution of food and drink in an institution
5 : one who actively directs affairs : MANAGER

I don't really get the idea of a person playing a piece of music being its "steward," but I kind of like the idea of performing musicians and composers being like note stewards. Composing musicians manage the harmonic and melodic concerns of the music while it is being written (would you like another E-flat in that chord, can I make that sextuplet more comfortable to play by changing the articulation, would this make more sense if there were five beats in this measure?), and performing musicians direct the affairs of the notes and phrases (I think that the G-sharp is the most important note in this measure, or that low D could be softer, or this is the right tempo).

Which reminds me of a totally unrelated story (or maybe it is related): Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was having a composition lesson with Charles Villiers Stanford, and Stanford spilled some of his tea on Coleridge-Taylor's score. He was then reported to have said "now your piece is in the key of ti."


Eric Edberg said...

"Stewardship" is a term often used in various Christian denominations to refer to the way in which material resources are handled. The "stewardship committee" is the frequent name for those in charge of raising money. In some denominations it's thought that all one's material resources are actually God's, so one is a steward, rather than true owner, of them. "It's God's money, not mine."

So it's interesting to think of musicians as "stewards" of works of music. I think many of us have a sense of being the stewards of our instruments as well, regardless of whether we use that term or not.

John Michael De Marco said...

I think in a general sense we are stewards of whatever talents or resources are entrusted to us. That includes the resource of community; the extent to which we treasure and give vitality toward relationships often parallels the stewardship of our most precious gifts. This is a great blog, Elaine.