It feels good to return to the blog after several weeks of hiatus. Six performances in three weeks has a way of eating up my time! As the holidays approach, I look forward to having a bit more time to read and also study music. Not surprisingly, I find the two pursuits quite similar.
The concept of reading music is well-established. We learn to read music. We read through a piece. Sight-reading is a valuable skill for musicians. Reviewers praise a particular conductor or soloist’s reading of the score. All very well, but how often do we actually read the music; not merely learning notes with an instrument at hand, but actual READING?
I encourage all musicians to spend some time with printed music away from an instrument, away from the nuts and bolts of sounding everything out (and analyzing the music to death as a starting point). There is certainly a time and place for this, but the life of the music must also be discovered, nurtured and remembered.
These days we usually first get excited about a piece of music by listening to it. Too often we jump immediately into learning it. We pick up our instrument and dive in. The problem is that, without mind time, we can quickly lose the enthusiasm that that initial hearing by trying to reproduce it. We need to look at the music through the eyes of both our intellect and imagination.
For me, the act of reading a score involves these two types of brain activity. I endeavor to read the same score both ways to achieve the desired result. Here’s the idea:
Reading music as non-fiction: This is looking at the craft of a composition: harmony, melody, phrase structure, form, rhythm. All can be seen on the surface and then more can be discovered as we dig deeper. This type of reading is like reading a technical how-to manual or a historical description of battles and political events. You see how something works, how it functions and how is fits in with the style.
Reading music as fiction: While we must do the above to understand a piece and present it to an audience, this “fiction” approach is by far my favorite. This is where the imagination soars, where I identify with the composer and define myself through the music. A musical score can be read as a novel, in time. The unfolding of events, all described by the non-fiction approach, become a vibrant, emotional story. The soul of the music is revealed.
Great music is like great literature or poetry. The deeper you dig, the more you discover about the BIG PICTURE. I consider this an important aspect of learning music. After these readings I will begin to mark my music and practice the tricky passages. When I get discouraged, or when the music loses immediacy, I simply curl up with the score and begin again. Like a great poem, I am always invited back inside.
Copyright, 2012. Robert Baldwin