I’m preparing a post about the culture of orchestras, one that I fear some people won’t like. Orchestral musicians, especially. Which will be ironic, if true, because they’re the ones who know best that what i’ll be saying is true.
My students embraced her view, and one of them wrote what follows:
A lot of us, especially those of us who are still in school, place too much importance on playing perfectly at the expense of thinking about the audience. Of course a certain amount of technical precision is necessary to make a piece recognizable and enjoyable, but what is most noticeable to audiences is whether or not someone approaches the work with joy and spirit! As a result I’ve pretty much developed 4 ways of playing.1) The way I play in orchestra auditions – precise, mechanical, robotic. In orchestra auditions it is more important to do nothing wrong than to do anything particularly well. They are basically looking for a reason to eliminate you, and “bad intonation” is a lot more convincing than “plays like an automaton.”2)The way I play in juries/other auditions – there’s a little room for flexibility and personality here, but not much. I still know that I will get more points off for making a mistake than being boring, but they will notice if I’m totally phoning it in. It’s especially hard to play Bach in juries because everyone has his or her own opinion as to how it should be played. I generally just play it as middle of the road as I can so that no one loves it but no one hates it.3)The way I play in performances which my teacher is attending – I have two very wonderful teachers here at Juilliard and they both allow me a lot of artistic freedom. But every once in a while, they put their foot (feet?) down. If I really (and I mean REALLY) don’t like what they want me to do, I will just pretend that I don’t understand what they are asking me to do. (I’m pretty sure they know what’s going on though.) If I’m ok with it but prefer my own way, I play it their way when they are listening. And I can’t help but think that it probably sounds a little unconvinced, but while I’m still studying with them I feel like I owe it to them to use their ideas when they really think it’s important. Do I really owe it to them? I don’t know. But I’m graduating in two weeks so HA!4)The way I play in any other performance – I try to just have fun! Especially when playing on stage with friends, I think the audience has the best time when we really interact with each other and show that we are committed to the performance. If something goes wrong, all the better! It’s also important for the audience to see that we are humans. It’s not easy to be so vulnerable in performance – I’m generally a little bit of a nervous performer. I usually try to remember what someone told me (I don’t remember who) which is that when you get noticeably nervous in a concert it’s almost better because the audience roots for you more.Anyways, hopefully my multiple personality disorder will one day be resolved – hopefully I’ll have it down to 2 or 3 next year as I will be just performing and taking orchestra auditions. And once I get a job and tenure, who knows! I could very well finally become myself!
Now, maybe this more directly relates to how students play, than to how orchestras play. But I think we can see the connection. If students are encouraged to do, in their playing (and in their auditions) only what other people want, will that make them creative once they start working professionally.
Let’s hope that’s right, and that this student has a long, rewarding, creative career playing in orchestras. Biut let’s also think about what we might do to make music study at least a little more flexible.