Saturday, February 11, 2012

Finding the Balance

YAY!  This is my first blog entry!

In planning a music appreciation class last semester on opera, I came across a great video of Henry Purcell's Dido's Lament (When I am Laid in Earth).  It was a short interview with Philip Sheppard discussing his experience with Jeff Buckley at the Meltdown Festival in 1995.  I was incredibly inspired by Sheppard's thoughts and realizations about music and music making through this experience.

I have always known I was going to be a musician.  Music has always been my life.  Most of my activities are centered around music and my career is music.  Music makes me happy so, I choose to fill almost every second of everyday with music.  When I graduated from high school I went to the Crane School of Music to be a music student.  I took all sorts of classes, lessons, was in ensembles, taught, etc.  I then went on to grad school for a Masters and a Doctorate and took more classes, lessons, etc.  I was a perpetual student and pretty successful at it, too.  Always learning and studying how to be a good musician.  But, somewhere along the way I realized I had lost something that was pivotal to my success in becoming a great musician.  I had gotten so caught up in becoming a great student and fulfilling all my coursework and other obligations, I had forgotten one important thing, why did I go into music?

Hearing Philip Sheppard describe his experience working with Jeff Buckley struck a chord with me.  Is it all about what you've learned?  Is being a student and graduate of music studies the only course you need to become successful in the art and business of music?  Hearing the haunting, melancholy voice of Jeff Buckley was a sure answer.  No.

I had worked so hard to make sure I had all the information I needed to be great.  I spent hours in practice rooms and libraries. What I had lost along the way was remembering why I choose music.  What I felt when I heard the horns in E.T. (the movie), Mahler's Adagietto (4th mvmt to Symphony No. 5), the Kyrie from Palestrina's Pope Marcellus Mass, sitting around our family piano singing I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair, sitting in the pews of a dark cathedral holding a candle and being transported by the ethereal voices of the choir, hearing my own voice as a musician, were the things with which I had lost touch.

When working with students, I have them write down the piece on which they are working.  Then, I have them assemble a list of things that an optimal performance of the this piece would include.  When making these lists (including the ones I make for myself) 95% of the items are descriptors of beauty, inspiration, communication and connecting with listeners.  In creating these lists, I have dusted off the feeling I have felt ever since I can remember when listening and being a part of music.  I have realized that being a great musician means 50% learned information and 50% feel.

I've never walked away from a concert saying, WOW, they can really play great 16th notes or they keep really great time.  Although these things are essential and required for great music making, if we loose touch with the things music can allow us the space and safety to feel, what's left?

Philip Sheppard said that even though he only spent about a half an hour with Jeff Buckley he thinks of him almost every day.  Isn't that one of the things we all cherish about music?  It's ability to attach itself to the soundboard or soundtrack of our lives.  Being a great musician means knowing your facts and technique.  It also means coloring those facts and techniques with the art of being human.  Feeling.