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Posts Tagged ‘thoughts on the music world’

The past few days have been spent packing up my room… and playing my last paid gig of the school year, at Eastman’s Community Music School! Although I had to wake up early after a late night of packing and a trip to the grocery store which ended in the happy purchase of Coca-Cola made from real sugar, playing for six classes of three and four year olds was actually incredibly fun and rewarding. Sappy and cliche, maybe, but as a bassoonist I like the fact that somebody’s trying to make sure that the children of today actually know what a bassoon is. Until I had the instrument in my hands, I had no idea what a bassoon was.

Playing for little kids is also gratifying because they think you’re super awesome. In ten years, those kids will probably think the bassoon is a nerdy diversion for lamesters, but right now it’s the coolest thing they’ve ever seen. That’s my favorite thing about them: they really don’t care if anybody else thinks they’re cool. They like what they like, they oooh and ahhh over a bassoon, they pull their socks high over their leggings. (Incidentally, I am both amused and gratified that the clothes I wore as a little girl are in fashion — the girls in my elementary school may have teased me, but apparently I was secretly a visionary. Or something.) I want to keep that childlike wonder, which I know is cliche, but imagine if every time I took my bassoon out of the case, I was taken aback by how ridiculously blessed I am, to be standing in front of such an awkwardly beautiful instrument, the product of so much care on the part of its creators. I think it would mean more to practice well, to keep improving.

And to be honest, one of the perks of playing for little kids is the reassurance that if I ever have children, they might actually love the bassoon even more than me! A girl should always dream big, right?

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So… did anyone check out Glee the other night? I definitely enjoyed the pilot a lot yesterday (on a practice break). Isn’t it exciting that television is suddenly into the glorification of dorky high school hobbies? Maybe we can blame High School Musical for this.
But maybe the numbers are working out. Think about it: how many people were high school cheerleaders or football players, and how many did theater, marching band, glee club, math team, debate, etc? And if television is catering to the largest common denominator (or the LCD, as one math teacher called it), isn’t it just common sense that television would now begin to cater to these activities?

I did marching band for three years at a big high school, so even the usual “marching band” stigma never really stuck. (Also, I didn’t really care.) But the drama could’ve definitely fueled a few seasons of TV: the hookups, breakups, the agony of drum corps auditions, what really happens on a marching band bus (aka: the reason for hand!check), and so on.
Or maybe youth orchestra? Everyone goes to a different high school, but everyone in my youth orchestra was pretty stellar, and you could pull the “gradual reveal” on the lives of the characters. And the conductor. And serious classical musicians (that sounds way too epic for high schoolers) have such a variety of backgrounds: some are really well-off financially and have amazing instruments and everything, some are musician’s kids and can barely afford anything, and then a lot of kids are normal middle-class. So there would be that tension, too, not to mention the whole talent and technique vs. expression and intense musical conflict that actually does arise even amongst teenage musicians. It would be pretty sweet — and probably even more awesome than marching band.

That’s one thing I’ve learned since high school: much as I loved marching band, it is not the be all end all of the musical world. I guess neither is youth symphony.
But it would still make a sweet primetime television show, wouldn’t it?

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One thing I hate: musicians with obnoxiously low self-esteem. Well, actually I don’t mind those with low self-esteem, I mind those people who broadcast their feeling to the entire world. It’s emotionally draining — there have been people who I have to assure, practically on every encounter, that yes, they are a good musician, yes, they sound awesome, yes, they are so not terrible.

And yet I really can’t complain, because there are numerous times when I, too, have struggled with low self-esteem when it comes to playing the bassoon, and when I’ve relied far too heavily on my friends to tell me that, “Yeah, Rachel, you know how you keep saying you suck? Way to be delusional.”

So I think that low self-esteem is a problem everyone struggles with, and especially musicians. After all, we sit alone in practice rooms trying to figure out what’s bad about our playing. We go to rehearsals where conductors — or our peers — tell us that this note is out of tune, this note has too hard an attack, this phrase does not go anywhere. We ask to be chastised. We get better by noticing our flaws.

Before I go further, let me say that one should never become self-congratulatory. I tend to fall into this trap very easily. I want to be happy! So I congratulate on getting my butt to a practice room, congratulate myself on picking up the bassoon, and congratulate myself on making a reed that will play, however dubiously. These practice sessions are always short and always, if not completely ineffective, then certainly much less effective than they could be.

So back to being down on ourselves. This is not a bad thing. In the end, that out-of-tune note in the Shostakovitch 9 solo will probably keep you from winning the job of your dreams, so it is completely in one’s best interest to notice that it’s out of tune, every time.
But one also has to make sure to fix these problems, and this, I think, is where we musicians can escape the path of obnoxiously low self-esteem.

See, it’s one thing to say, “Gee, that sucks!” and then delve into what, exactly, was so sucktastic about the passage. (You can use better English than me, I am sure.) But obviously just acknowledging this gets one nowhere. You’ve got to fix it — and then, I think, you have to enjoy the feeling of fixing the problem. It’s okay to celebrate your awesomeness when you’ve nailed the Ravel Piano Concerto excerpt or when you’ve gotten your double tonguing ten clicks faster. You are fixing problems. You are indeed awesome!
After really productive practice sessions I like to treat myself. Maybe it’s concocting a super amazing dessert in the cafeteria (luckily, they ONLY thing our cafeteria does well are desserts) or taking some time before bed to read some of my favorite book or letting myself have some chill time with friends. This keeps me feeling happy about my progress without getting too cocky. The reward is in the music, and in the fact that the music allows me to create something beautiful. And when I create something beautiful, everything gets more beautiful. So why not celebrate?

Just don’t get too carried away with all the celebration. There’s always something to improve.
At least, there definitely is for me. But I’m going to fix it!

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I was reading this article on the New York Times’ website, about the attempted revival of the music of Franz Schmidt. It seems like an uphill battle, and possibly for good reason:

It doesn’t help your legacy as a composer to give the Nazi salute in 1938 at the premiere of your greatest work. Nor is it good for your cause to tell a young Herbert von Karajan that he has no future in conducting. So it may not be a total surprise that the Austrian composer Franz Schmidt is little known to the wider world, given his difficult character and distasteful political associations.

But the article goes on to talk about Schmidt’s music and how interesting and really good it is and how perhaps the reason that his music has gone more or less unheard since his death is perhaps mainly because no conductor championed his work, like Bernstein did for Mahler. (It also points out that von Karajan maybe could’ve done it, but Schmidt had called him a failure.)

So I’m wondering about separating the artist from his work. On the one hand, it’s kind of like just desserts — like when the arrogant jerk you met at college auditions doesn’t get in anywhere. But on the other hand, what if the artist himself is blocking the rest of the world from something beautiful? We should be able to look past that. After all, it’s not as though any of us is perfect.
And yet. Don’t we put something of ourselves into our own art? I’m prone to daydream, for instance, and perhaps this is why I love playing the slow, dream-like movements of concerti. There is a lot of Rachel in my playing. There is, no doubt, a lot of Franz Schmidt in Franz Schmidt’s music. But music also has the power of transcendence, I think. At my best playing, when everything comes together, I’m more than myself or the bassoon or even the notes on the page. Couldn’t Franz Schmidt have transcended his own apparently terrible personality and questionable political views in his music? Couldn’t it be more than the sum of the ego and the id, no matter how twisted they were inside his mind?
Maybe he did or maybe he didn’t. But shouldn’t we give him a chance? There’s not too much to lose, except maybe an hour of time.

Anyway, I’m going to give him a chance and take a listen.

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