Wednesday, September 18, 2013

If it's Thursday it Must be Bach

I had a great time playing the C-major Bach Suite on the viola for a group of fourth graders a few weeks ago. It was part of a "school demonstration" I did as a favor for a friend. I talked with the kids about the fact that when I play for them, they become part of the music. I told them (and I was telling the truth) that the way they listened and followed the music had a lot to do with how I would play the music. I told them that because it was Bach, the music has infinite possibilities and can be realized in many ways. I goofed around a bit, making much of the cadences and false endings (and they applauded at the proper inappropriate times, and then laughed at themselves). A good time was had by all.

On Monday five members of our Collegium played a set of Renaissance consort pieces for a music appreciation class at the local college. We interacted a bit with the students, but for the most part, aside from polite (and sometimes enthusiastic) applause, it was clear that they didn't really know what to make of a group of living people playing old music for them.

My community college class tomorrow is our first class about Bach. I have decided to play some of the C-major Suite for my class, because my class deserves the same exposure to live music as that fourth grade class and my friend's music appreciation class. I also decided to play for them because I think that these 20-something-year-olds need to know the difference between hearing a live performance and a recorded one. They have gotten much of their music from square and rectangular boxes (some which hold disc-shaped objects) rather than from living and breathing human beings. They have also been deprived of a whole range of vibrations that microphones can't pick up. They may change, but the music they hear does not. A recording can't change, but a person can. This "self-oriented" generation tends to notice its personal changes in relation to the stagnant music it consumes. And that's any kind of music. They rarely get the opportunity to understand that a musical interpretation can be something "of the moment," and that the changes that happen to us through listening to music and playing music are things to reflect upon and celebrate.

Not all performances are given in ways that involve the audience (you can read a post I wrote six years ago ((six years ago!)) about "playing at and playing to" here), but the people participating in a performance by listening are always vitally important. I hope to get this across to my students tomorrow.

I have been pondering the differences between tomorrow's Bach and a concert:

1. The class is at 8:00 a.m., so I will not have had time to practice.
2. My attention will be divided between the material for the rest of the class and the act of playing.
3. It will be a surprise to the students (except the ones who might be reading this post).
4. I would NEVER play solo Bach in a concert. The more I learn about music, the higher my regard for Bach. I feel that the goal of any performance is to try to meet the composer half way. The more I grow as a player and as a musician, the more the distance between me and Bach grows. This ever-growing half way is already a journey of a lifetime.

Here are a few Bach posts from the Musical Assumptions archives:

My Daily Bach
Why Playing (or Practicing) a Piece is Like Taking a Walk
I Guess it Shows
Back to Bach
and
Lost Branches of the Bach Family Tree

5 comments:

Quodlibet said...

Elaine, this is a profound essay. Yes and yes and YES to live music. This observation is just brilliant:

"A recording can't change, but a person can. This 'self-oriented' generation tends to notice its personal changes in relation to the stagnant music it consumes. And that's any kind of music. They rarely get the opportunity to understand that a musical interpretation can be something 'of the moment,' and that the changes that happen to us through listening to music and playing music are things to reflect upon and celebrate."

And YES to the lifelong journey to meet Bach. Oh yes, the more I sing, play, and learn his music, the greater he becomes, and the more he demands of me. It's an upward journey - and the view gets better and better as we ascend.

Thank you so much for sharing your experience, and for your eloquence in writing here. I read it all!

Elaine Fine said...

Thank you so much, Sarah.

Sean said...

" The more I grow as a player and as a musician, the more the distance between me and Bach grows. "

This is very similar to my own experience; a kind of musical version of one of Zeno's paradoxes, where something in motion toward a goal must always reach the halfway point before arriving at the goal. Therefore the goal can never be reached, which suggests that this distance is infinitely divisible.

Of course, there are solutions to this paradox but they have to do with the physical world. And with Bach, it may seem that the ultimate goal has something to do with reaching silence.

Petia said...

I definitely agree there is something great about hearing music preformed live.

csp123 said...

Thank you for this wonderful essay, Elaine, and especially for sharing your experience of playing for the fourth graders. It's a thread of hope in a period when so much seems to conspire against giving people opportunities for experiencing in a really deeply satisfying way.

Thank you, too, for providing the links to your Bach posts, which I look forward to savoring over the coming days.