rehearsal culture

The phenomenon of the professional musician’s severe annoyance with what he perceives to be the artistic aberrations of other musicians is not new in the history of Western Music. From the beginning, the music student is driven by competition: competition for having a more informed taste, for collecting the better Cd’s and, first and foremost, for playing better than the next person. To the eyes of a growing musician whose goal is accomplishment, a more humble level of achievement will soon stand out as clumsy, a more modest talent will be seen as a weakness of character or mind, and a player who has a different taste might seem to be wilfully distorting the music. For centuries, musical observers have missed no chance for sarcasm in discussions about musical style and taste and in descriptions of musical performances.

It is very hard to free oneself from the last remnants of this kind of thinking. Even in the seasoned professional musician, the sentiment that musical taste divides the artistic world in the good guys and the bad guys lives on. In musical leadership, picking on the the ones deemed unable is a well-established culture [listen all the way to the end!] (while it, in my opinion, is frightfully time-inefficient and generally leads to inferior artistic results). In teaching music, such an impatience naturally should be banned altogether. In democratic chamber music playing, I found that my impatience with other musician’s level of commitment always led to unhappiness: my own, to be precise.

A most stimulating self-teaching technique is to make recordings while practicing. Long ago I used to have the self-protective notion that it would be impossible for me to actually hear my shortcomings that way, and that these recordings would drive me into perfecting my playing into artistic sterility. This is superstitious nonsense. In listening to myself, I understand which things I absolutely need to improve in order to meet my own standards. It is self-evident that this technique would be completely useless, if I would persist in thinking that ‘that unmusical person’ on my own recording was stupid, or maliciously lacking in discipline. Musical self-criticism is not synonymous with chastising oneself: I listen to my recordings because I want to improve matters – critically but in a friendly spirit. A similar attitude, and not a disdain for other musicians, should be the basis for a good rehearsal culture.

As an afterthought it strikes me that, on a larger scale, the ardor of ones commitment to music-making naturally influences ones intensity of opinion about the musical enterprises of others. The (now in itself largely historical) anger of some established mainstream musicians at historical instruments and their players might to a large degree have been a result of this mechanism – to a larger degree, in fact, than was their purported collective fear of being eclipsed by the new-old historically informed performance practice culture.


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2 Responses to “rehearsal culture”

  1. Thomas D Says:

    There seems to be at least four different issues you are trying to roll into one here:

    ‘Competitiveness’ …

    ‘Taste’ … for which there is no accounting

    ‘Ability’ … what these two have to do with Klemperer asking bad-temperedly for his prescribed bowing is unclear – I don’t imagine he intended to prove himself a better string player than the leader of the Philharmonia

    ‘Commitment’ … which is, finally, something that one can ask for without conditions

    What is ‘democratic’ chamber music playing anyway? In reality, one part is almost always musically leading (not always the same part!) – and there is no such thing as an artistic compromise.

  2. skowroneck Says:

    I guess my point might be that in music making, these issues are in fact all part of one highly processed and artificial sausage: artistic identity.
    The real problem starts when we have to consider what to do with this identity in practice. Klemperer demonstrates: (well, we can’t ask him any more now, can we? Klemperer seems to demonstrate) “I’m good and you guys are fools.” I would favor a different approach.
    But I will still have to discuss the subject of musical leadership – future project. Not so easy, as you’ll imagine.

    What indeed is democratic chamber playing. Spot on.

    I might also consider a separate article on artistic compromise. It will take some time. This is an extremely complicated issue.

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