Saturday, August 05, 2017

Reasons for Being a Musician

I recently heard a former musician talk about her musical accomplishments. And then she said that her attraction to studying music had nothing to do with music. She really enjoyed the work of practicing, studying, and getting incrementally better at something.

To me that notion is akin to being in a marriage with someone without feeling love, but really enjoying the idea of being a better and better wife, and getting better at resolving conflict. It is a good thing that the person I heard make that statement no longer plays for a living. This person does, however, offer practical professional advice to musicians. Love of music itself does not seem to fall into any part of the equation, though.

I confess that I do love the work of being a musician. I enjoy writing counterpoint exercises. I get a big burst of musical love (my reward) when I can make something small and meaningless sound beautiful. And I enjoy practicing scales, particularly in thirds and sixths, because I enjoy the resonance that happens when they are in tune. I also know that if I practice thirds and sixths every day, I will get stronger, and making double-stop passages sound beautiful becomes more of a possibility than it would be if I didn't practice double-stops. I also love practicing difficult passages with a metronome, and I love solving musical problems.

For me, though, the reward has always been in the music. The better I understand the music at hand, the more I find to love.

I do know people who love music as much as I love music, but they are not devoted to the daily work. I suppose that we all fall short of our goals in music, our early goals as well as the goals that we find later in our lives. The balance between the tenacity of daily work and the humility connected with the ultimate realization that reaching our loftier goals might never happen causes a constant state of dissonance that is, from time to time, resolved. Then the "goal post" gets moved: we learn something, we hear something, generations shift, rules change.

There are always young musicians who are attracted to the musical life because they want to be in the company of other musicians. Being part of an organized musical group gives young people who might otherwise consider themselves outcasts (and I think that all adolescents feel like outcasts at one time or another) the chance to be part of something cooperative and fun. I guess I did this too, to a certain extent, but I kind of chose the people I spent time with based on the repertoire possibilities. I remember always having duets in my bag, and I spent much of my adolescent time hanging out with like-minded flutists and oboists I could play duets with.

Some people like performing simply for the sake of performing. There are people who shop for snazzy concert clothes and really dress up for their audience, and there are people who really enjoy being the center of attention. There are certainly musicians who get excited when hearing applause.

I like playing concerts because I love sharing music, and I always dress for comfort. I love the excitement that enters the room when people are listening. I love it when things happen in the music during a concert that have never happened before. I think of audience applause as a part of the musical dialogue. It offers a physical and non-verbal way for an audience to collectively respond to the physical (and usually non-verbal) alternation of tension and release that happens in a concert. It also allows the members of the audience to feel connected to one another in their response to the emotional journey they have been on together.


Quodlibet said...

Elaine - so long since I left a comment here, but I read and enjoy all your posts. You always give me something to THINK about.

I sang in a concert yesterday - the final event in a week-long choral festival. The singer had had a wonderful week making music and learning together, reveling in the beauty AND in the sweet challenge of mastering some knotty passages. "Sweet" because the rewards are, as you say, far more than just finding a solution to a problem. When the challenge is mastered, it's like climbing over a cumbersome threshold to find ourselves in a new realm of beauty, one that can be attained only by struggling over that threshold. And the concert itself, where we presented our week's worth of learning and reveling, was marvelous - the people in the audience were clearly moved and delighted and full of joy as the music filled them up with beauty, and for an hour or so life was perfect. THAT's what music-making is - a constant seeking of beauty and perfection. Practicing is seeking. Rehearsing is seeking. Performing is seeking. Sometimes the beauty is found in the practice, sometimes during rehearsal, and sometimes it bursts forth in performance, especially during those magic moments when you KNOW you are creating something sublime, and you KNOW that your listeners are right there with you. That's why we are musicians (and listeners) - to seek, and sometimes to attain, that perfection of beauty.

Your post moved me deeply.

Elaine Fine said...

Thank you so much for this beautiful comment.