Wednesday, March 28, 2012
The Imaginary Trolls that Live Under the Bridge
I finally understand how to get the richest and most interesting sounds out of my viola and my violin. It all has to do with the mental image of directing the vibrations of the string towards the bridge, using any means necessary. My means are totally related to playing on the outside of the hair and directing the sound towards the bridge, which also gives the feeling that I am directing the sounds towards my heart. When the "trolls" who live under the bridge (I'm imagining cute little ones that are actually more like fairies or imps than trolls, but I like the image of paying a toll to the troll to be able to enjoy the rich sound; it's a mental image, and perhaps it doesn't make rational sense, but this image is sensual, not sensible) get excited, the sound expands and grows rich with vibrations.
Listening to the Julius Baker videos I posted the other day reminds me of the importance of air direction in flute playing. When I play the flute, I use my tongue to direct the airstream to the place that excites the little "trolls" that "live" just below the flute's permanent "reed" on the headjoint.
One danger with flute playing is to compress the air too much (perhaps with the muscles of the face and mouth), and kill the vibrations. The results can range from a sound that is forced and reedy to a sound that is dead and dull, and the rarity of excellent flute playing has to do with the immediate sensibilities of the player and serious control over the whole breathing mechanism and the articulation mechanism. I think it also has to do with the specific flexibility and agility of the tongue, which I understand is mostly genetic.
The various components of the breathing and articulation mechanisms in flute playing are directly analogous to the various components of the bow arm in string playing, but the advantage to string players is that they can breathe freely while they play, and wind players, obviously, cannot. String players can also release tension in their bodies through functional motion, while wind players risk looking conspicuous when they move. In the case of Julius Baker, he managed to deal with every possible aspect of tension mentally (and way ahead of time), so he could remain still, and could let the music do all the work while he was playing.
The big difficulty, with all three instruments is to maintain that overtone richness while moving from note to note. Therein lies both the difficulty and the fascination of the whole process of playing. With string playing there are the variables of string tension, string length, and getting from one string to the next, and with flute playing there are the issues involving the length of the tube, and going from one register to the next.
But once those trolls start to dance, you have to keep them in step and in line, particularly when the music at hand involves double stops!