Friday, January 7, 2011

"The Art of-" How About Practising??

I cannot recall whether I had told you about an arts class I was conducting with honors students involved, and an event I thought might have some effect upon these young people.
I decided to alter the social fiber of a process which, of its own nature, requires only one being to enact; namely, the process of practice. After all, does one customarily practice an instrument before an audience?
And so I decided to let these students experience something they may never again undergo - I approached a colleague of mine; a 'cellist, who taught at the same institution I was teaching in, and asked him if he would select a short piece by a master which he had never learned, and practice that piece before these students. At first, he looked at me rather incredulously, then quickly understood the potential value involved for these young people.
A short time later, he constructed this short piece ( a piece by Bach for unaccompanied 'cello) in the middle of the circle formed by the students surrounding him.
For close to ten years after this incident, I would periodically receive either letters or telephone calls telling me of the impact upon the caller or writer; that is, the view of a process of intimate design suddenly thrust into the outside world, as it were.
I tell you this simply because true practice is an art form, as it is a creative process if done in pure terms of architectural thought.
Each piece of fine music is indeed a fingerprint, and should be treated as one, both in the learning and the performance. I make sure that each student I deal with is reminded that the ways of practice will determine the future of that music.
For instance, if I choose to teach or perform a piece, I must decide as to priorities - if a piece is a physically daunting incarnation such as, say, something by Liszt, I would make sure that the most difficult parts are dealt with first, with the least demanding learned last. I have from time to time learned a piece backwards, if the final part of that music is the most demanding technically. On the other hand, if the music is slow and dream-like, such as a John Field Nocturne, I would work from beginning to end, then ask "now that the notes are in place, what do I do with them?" To buttress this approach to a piece that may have lesser technical difficulties, but project truly great music, a great pianist once said to me that "NOTHING I do is easy."
And so, such as in architecture, the cornerstones have to be in place before the building emerges, and learning a piece of music in the most efficient way is to be, in truth, a kind of architect.
Any intelligent musician quickly learns that anything less than quality time spent in practice is a waste of time.



Blogger Adam Stark said...

Great teachers are never content to just teach; they are constantly learning new ways to teach (as you show in this anecdote). It has been my great pleasure to have been educated by you, Les, in so many unexpected and delightful ways during our many informal conversations. You are often the best 5-10 minutes of my Sunday.

January 25, 2011 at 2:56 PM  

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