Facing the Buffet and Making Choices: A Musical Smorgasbord

About a year ago I went through one of my “turn the focus to classical guitar” periods.  I had been playing with a community classical guitar group for fun, and had joined a classical guitar sextet to do more challenging material as well as possibly gigging with them.  I periodically go through these phases where I want to return to “serious” music, whatever that really means I’m not certain.  I posted a list of pieces I wanted to revisit, relearn and add to my solo repertoire.  That list is still on one of the windows in my studio, poking up behind my computer monitor.  Today it’s reminding me of where I’ve been before and where I’ll visit again some time from now, or tomorrow.  In many ways music has become a buffet table laden with delights from the many different places to explore, some exotic, some complex, some simple to the point of primitive, others heavy, weepy, joyful and downright creepy.  It’s all there right in front of me and I want it all at once.  I’ve also found that when I’m faced with the buffet I have difficulties determining my identity in all of it.  The easy answer is I’m a musician, but I’m not one that necessarily falls into a convenient slot for further identification, and that’s largely due to my own broad interests.

I have performed classical music as a guitarist, a pianist, and a choir member with large and small ensembles as well as performing as a solo classical guitarist.  I’ve also performed in alternative rock bands, dance bands, funk bands, blues bands, jazz bands, folk bands, country bands, jam bands, Americana groups, R&B bands, zydeco bands, cowboy rock and roll bands, hard rock bands, light rock bands, classic rock bands, country rock bands, and I’m sure I’m missing some other genres that I’ve done as well.  I’ve enjoyed all of them, some more than others, and when it comes down to brass tacks if the other players are good I’ll consider most genres as fair game and interesting in their own way.  I often like to be in a variety of groups at one time, playing different types of music in each, because variety keeps me ticking.  Too much of the same, along with too much repetition, kills the mix for me, and most of the time it doesn’t matter to me if I’m playing bass or guitar as long as I’m playing and performing.

One of the dangers of facing the buffet is overfilling the plate, particularly if it’s a really good buffet.  One of the local restaurants that I love is called The Khyber Pass, an Indian restaurant with an absolutely killer all you can eat buffet.  I have to be careful there because I’m always tempted to stuff myself to the bursting point, and all too frequently have because it’s so good.  The musical buffet presents the same danger, particularly when it comes to projects.  Sometimes it’s difficult not to over-commit, especially when opportunities start coming in.  When you have highly eclectic interests, like I do, often in order to get the variety I crave I have to play in multiple groups.  Most groups focus on a particular genre or target, and variety bands, particularly working variety bands, tend to be pretty tightly knit as well as few and far between.  This means that variety frequently requires multiple commitments, which in turn can lead to overcrowded plates.  When the opportunities are rolling in I have difficulty not overfilling the plate and then wanting to fill it with even more.

Now I’m looking at the list of songs on the window, wondering what I could pull off working on, how much time I have available, and then thinking about the new standards type of jazz project I’ve been considering doing, the four groups I’m currently with (two startups, one fully out of the gate and one getting out), and then my solo interests.  I have a lot going on, yes, but still want more, as well as more club dates to pay the bills.  I’m truly bellied up to the buffet, but I’m starting to wonder how much of it is dessert, versus how much is what really sustains me.  If I’m running with the food analogy, I have to also take into consideration what I need to eat to keep me as healthy as possible and what will keep me running best.  I have often found that when I want more, it’s usually because I’m not getting enough of something specific; there’s some important aspect that is missing in the equation so quantity becomes a way to appease the desire that hasn’t been either attended to or even defined.

Much of my musical journey has been a search for that missing aspect that needs to be fulfilled.  I’m still searching for the ultimate “right fit” and while I find myself periodically down for the count, I still inevitably pick myself up and return to the search.  I have to do this; it’s not optional for me.  It’s really integral to my personal make up, so I return to the search and keep bringing plates back from the buffet to my booth where I dig in once again.  The classical guitar comes out with the technical exercises and complicated pieces, the bass tunes down to E flat for the classic rock band and then up again to standard for the blues rock bands, and the acoustic steel string and nylon strings come out for the other work, all the while seeking that elusive compromise that makes it all work together, and brings home the cash.  I’m still searching, and I will be probably long after I find what I’m searching for.

 

 

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Beginnings: A Reflection on my Early Days as a Guitarist

Way back in the dim recesses of my mind I still remember when I started taking guitar lessons with Mr. Manypenny at Band-Orch in 1971. At the time, Band-Orch was the local music store in Alliance, Ohio and to this day I still remember the smell of the place. It smelled like old paper, guitar polish and joy. Once a week I would report for my half hour lesson, which cost three dollars that my dad would fork over to Mr. Manypenny religiously. I’d go down to the basement into one of the teacher’s rooms, really a six by six closet with a light, a couple chairs, an amp and a music stand, pull my huge dreadnought style Epiphone out its chipboard case and sit down with Mel Bay’s Method.

I took lessons with Mr. Manypenny for about a year, and in that year we went through Mel Bay’s Method books one through five. I also started learning some songs like Witchita Lineman, some Sonny and Cher tunes, and various other pop songs of the day. Mr. Manypenny was a very nice man, who always appeared wearing a tie, usually with a short-sleeved shirt. He was very orderly, cleancut, and demanding without being pushy. There were rules established right from the start, the biggest of which was that I had to practice at least a half hour a day. This meant that I had to sit down and put in the full half hour as one contiguous unit, not spaced out over the day. He also expected that I would play the assigned material correctly, as notated in standard notation as well as using the correct rhythm. If I had to repeat something assigned the prior week, I felt like I had failed in my prime directive.

My parents reinforced Mr. Manypenny’s teachings through enforcing the practice regimen and my father started learning the lessons as well on his own guitar. We didn’t necessarily practice together, but he knew what I was supposed to do which helped me stay on the straight and narrow. Of course while I really liked guitar, I didn’t always want to practice and one of the rules in the house was that I had to practice after school before I could go out and hang with my friends. I remember there were times when I would be upstairs in my room practicing while tears splattered on my guitar because I really wanted to be out playing with my friends. Sometimes that half hour seemed to last an eternity, but I did it and kept moving forward.

At the close of my first year of playing, Mr. Manypenny had taken me as far as he could. There was another teacher at the store who taught classical guitar and Mr. Manypenny talked to my father about my starting with him. The shift occurred and I started taking lessons with Michael Gatien. This was an entirely new experience for me. Not only did I have to start using my left hand differently, but I also needed to learn how to use my right hand without a pick. It also meant that I needed a different type of guitar, a classical nylon string with a wide neck and an entirely different feel. I was really excited to get the new guitar, an inexpensive Yamaha that we traded my Epiphone toward.

I took to the new situation like an otter to a mudslide. It didn’t take long for me to burn through the Carcassi Method and by the time I was in fifth grade I was starting to rip through classical warhorses like Asturias, and making Villa Lobos as well as Bach pieces sing. At this point Michael became the second teacher to tell my parents that he couldn’t take me any farther, stating that he wanted to take me to meet his teacher who was the guitar professor at Kent State University. They agreed, and off I went to meet and play for this man. I vaguely remember being at his house in Kent and having dinner with him. The things that stand out in my memory are dinner, which was my first encounter with vegetarianism as well as eggplant, and it being really dark outside so it was probably late fall or early winter. I don’t recall playing for him, although I know I did, but his evaluation was that I was a child prodigy. This kind of scared me because it sounded bad, kind of like a disease.

Michael talked to my parents about the meeting and what his teacher had surmised. Michael said that his teacher was willing to take me on, but that he thought I should start taking lessons with someone better than him who lived in Cleveland. They also discussed how my practice regimen should start to increase until I was practicing about five hours a day. Michael also stressed how important this was to my development as a musician. My father was an art professor at Mount Union College in my hometown, and after my parents talked with Michael they were at somewhat of a loss of what to do. Money was tight and Cleveland was a good hour to hour and a half drive away from our home. The lessons would be significantly more expensive in addition to at least a three hour round trip once a week. They were also concerned about what it meant from a social developmental perspective. So my dad talked to his friend Lou Phelps who was the chair of the music department at Mount Union. Dr. Phelps said to let me make the decision and not to worry about it if I said no. His perspective was that if I wanted to do it later I would.

Dr. Phelps was right. I didn’t want to start practicing five hours a day and become a practice room kid and while I might have become an incredible classical guitarist it would have been at the cost of a childhood that I value to this day. I did end up going to a conservatory of music and double majored between classical guitar performance and music composition, but it was a decision I made toward the end of my junior year in high school, and once again it was my decision. I don’t feel that I lost anything between the end of fifth grade and the end of eleventh, in fact I knew myself better my junior year than I did earlier. In between I had the opportunity to study jazz with another great player, Tony Favazzo, so that was a win in and of itself. I am truly thankful to Mr. Manypenny, Mr. Gatien, and Tony for what they taught me, as I am to Dr. Loris Chobanian for his four years of classical instruction at Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory of Music, Nick Bucci for several years of jazz instruction, and many others who have helped me grow along the way, helping me become the player I am today. If the past is any indication toward the future, I am certain that there will be many more folks that help me continue to grow in the future. I’ll be sure to thank them as well.

Fatigue and Illness: Two Challenges for Working Musicians

Two of the more difficult situations that we all eventually face are illness and fatigue; both provide their own challenges but share some similarities.  When we are tired or ill focus can become a major issue as our energy levels plummet and while fatigue is bad enough on its own when combined with illness it can be a real drag.  Not all of us have the iron will that drives surf legend Dick Dale to still get up and give a solid show despite a whole slew of serious physical ailments that would sideline most of us, nor that of Freddie Mercury finishing his last album with Queen while virtually on his deathbed with AIDs.  There are countless examples of performers who have given their all and died doing it, but I’m not going there.  What I’m looking at is how do we get through a gig where we’re exhausted or miserable from some garden-variety virus.

I’ve done my fair share of gigs when I was under the weather and quite a few where I was close to exhausted before the gig started either due to insomnia the night before, a run of late nights combined with early mornings or a ton of other situations.  If I know I’m running on low energy due to fatigue and I can work it in during the day, I’ll do my best to get a nap before I’ve got to leave for the gig, but more often than not this is a luxury I have to forgo.  So I find myself hitting the coffee and diet soda regimen, trying to load up a little to keep the peepers open and the attention span stabilized.  That being said, this is not the healthiest way to deal with the situation because any time you use chemicals, even caffeine, there’s a price to pay, particularly if you overload.  So if you go the coffee route watch how much you drink, particularly if you already have health issues like high blood pressure or something like A-fib.  You don’t want to elevate the blood pressure, nor do you want to risk you’re A-fib getting worse.  One of the worst things you can do in this situation is start drinking alcohol, and if you’re really tired skip that after gig drink.

Another method, which doesn’t rely on chemicals, is get up and moving before the set starts.  This will help get the blood pumping and help you make it into the set.  Between sets find a quiet corner, ask one of your bandmates to come and get you before the next set and close your eyes.  As long as your bandmates know where you are, they’ll make sure you’re up and running for the next set.  The best method is to avoid letting your batteries run so dry in the first place.  Do your best to follow a schedule that permits eight hours of sleep per day, preferably in one block.  I know that this is difficult, particularly if you have a day job, kids that need to get to school and a heavy performance schedule.  Remember, lack of balance is usually what creates sleep deprivation to begin with, and you’re better off pulling into a parking lot to take a nap after the gig than falling asleep at the wheel.

Illness is a tricky one, because we need to be able to determine when we’re risking too much for the bar gig, or not enough.  Honestly, I don’t know how singers do it when they power through gigs with colds, sinus infections and the lot.  If you are a vocalist I highly suggest you ask your fellow singers with tons of experience how they get through the gigs and go from there.  For the rest of the rockers and such, if you can’t get out of the bathroom you need to either find an emergency sub or cancel the gig, other than that if you’re lucid and you’re fairly certain you’re not going to pass out on stage, everyone is pretty much expecting you to show up and do the gig.  In most of these cases it’s a matter of gritting your teeth and getting it done.  Once again, remember that mixing alcohol and cold medicines of various types can create an even worse scenario.  Stick to safe fluids, and try not to give your fellow band members the curse.

The brutal reality of being even a semi-pro musician is that you have to show up for work even when you feel like death warmed over.  You’re part of a small unit that depends upon its components to survive and profit as an entity.  Any time you call off from a gig it puts the group at risk of failure, whether it’s having a bad night for the bad or possibly losing the backing of an agent who could have kept you all working regularly.  It’s not like a regular job with paid sick days and vacation time, plus there really are tons of people just waiting to take your job.  Your best bet is to cowboy up, to use the old phrase, and get the job done.  Then do what you can to get better rested or to recover from whatever ails you.

 

Perspectives on Performance – Finding the Spiritual in the Visceral

Different musicians have different approaches to performances, and how one approaches performance can say quite a bit about how one views music. Many of the musicians I have worked with have a more blue-collar approach and perspective. They do care about music very much, and it is their passion in life, but they approach the gig in the same manner as one would go to work. You arrive, set up, maybe socialize or get something to eat before starting, and when start time arrives, you go up and go to work. This is a very common approach, and is one that gets the job done while maintaining a level of professionalism and decorum. You’ve been hired to perform a service, and you deliver that service just as anyone would in any business relationship. It does employ your creative energies and specific skills, and you do get something more from it than the money, but it’s a job. There are also many musicians out there who carry a somewhat different perspective and approach to their performances. Most of these individuals tend to move in a higher skill set and mental attitude toward their profession than the usual bar band mien.

For these musicians, and while this is more common in classically trained circles it does extend to higher level musicians in most genres, each performance is a significant event that requires spiritual, emotional and mental connection and preparation going into the performance. The musicians prepare themselves as if they are performing a sacred duty, often following pre-performance rituals such as meditation, stretching, and centering prior to the performance. Every performance, regardless of the venue, audience, or any other venue is of equal importance and requires total focus and 100% dedication to giving the best possible delivery of the music to the audience that the performer is capable of rendering. There is an element of love and respect for the medium that goes into the preparations and intent behind this perspective that infuses the experience with a deeper seated meaning, making each performance an event in the performers’ lives as well as, hopefully, the audiences’.

From this type of perspective, each performance is both carried in the actual moment of the performance but also into the hearts and memories of all present, and if it is a successful moment, then it will be carried for years by those on the receiving end. It’s not over with the last note of the night. It nurtures the souls of the performers and the audience, leaving both better than they were prior to the performance and with the sense that life is best lived when one has the opportunity to have a long succession of such fulfilling experiences. For this type of musician, it’s not simply an evening of work, enjoyment, and some cash at the end of the night, though it is that as well, hopefully, but rather a fulfillment of their purpose in walking the planet and extending that relationship to whomsoever is willing to take the journey along beside them.

From the blue-collar working band performance perspective this train of thought might be met with a defensive perspective that the other approach is just a bunch of romantic drivel. So you have a performance, get over it and on to the next one. But herein lies the rub, why are you doing this? What are you getting out of it, and wouldn’t you like to get more than you are? One of the reasons for the difference in perspectives does lie in the types of performance situations the players find themselves in. Most classical and higher level popular genre performers are doing their jobs in venues that cater to specifically music. People go to these places solely for the music and with the intent of giving their focused attention to the performances. They’re not going to dance, meet and talk with friends, or find someone to go home with. They’re not going to drink away their troubles, worries, and concerns, nor are they going to watch their favorite teams on the big screens while the bands are doing what they can to garner their attention. They are there for one reason only, for your performance and the music you are presenting to them, for them.

How we go about things as performers does have an impact on the outcome and so do our expectations and perspectives on things. If you are happy and content as things as they are do you need to change your approach? Not if you are truly content and desire what you are reaping from your performances. For many years I have been performing with bands and musicians who have the more blue-collar approach to performance. They have a definite passion for music, and they do well with what they do, but it is definitely a more informal perspective on making music than what I encountered so many years ago at the conservatory. In some ways this has led me to experience more freedom, specifically from performance anxiety, and has led to some risk taking that I wouldn’t have taken in a classically oriented situation. For the last two years I have been straddling both worlds and have been encountering both perspectives on a more regular basis. This has led me to reconsider the approach to performance that I want to take because if the medium is my passion, shouldn’t I dedicate myself to presenting it in the best manner I can every time I perform? Doesn’t it deserve my full focused attention and abilities? How one approaches something often dictates what one gets or achieves from the experience. Go beyond the immediate, and look to the world.

Memorization: Is it the Defining Moment in Professionalism?

Memorization of material is both a gift and an acquired skill. For some individuals, memorizing a piece of music is process that occurs naturally, primarily through the repetitive process of practicing the piece. For others, myself included, repetition alone is not sufficient to lodge the material in the gray matter, to be called upon at will in a performance setting. Some pieces I latch onto and do manage to log into my recall centers. It is interesting to me, however just exactly this recall ability varies from genre to genre. With pop genres, I find that I’m essentially playing along to an inner track inside my head, guided by my memory of how the song sounds. I essentially push the playback button and off I go. The issue becomes more complex when it comes to classical guitar and fingerstyle guitar, because reproducing the soundtrack involves quite a bit more intricacy. I would also contend that some of my memorization disability comes from years of being an excellent sight reader. This can hamper memorization because folks who aren’t have to work harder through sections and thus have a much higher immediate benefit from memorizing the material. Some musicians believe that it is more professional to perform music from memory than to use the sheet music during performance, while others, and I count myself amongst these, maintain that it is the overall quality of the musical performance that matters, not whether one has the sheet music on stage.

The point here isn’t whether or not memorization is a valuable and important skill for a performer to have, nor is it whether one should or should not employ this skill. Those points are very clear as they stand. Yes, it is a valuable and important skill to have and whenever possible it should be employed. Professional musicians do use their reading skills on stage all the time. In some genres this is seen less, but this is also largely because in some genres the bulk of the musicians performing can’t read music aside from chord charts, and often find those to be problematic. Many jazz performers go to gigs toting along their fake books, pulling them out when someone calls a tune they don’t know and reading the material on the fly. Boom, it’s part of the gig. Orchestral musicians always read their material when performing together, for many reasons, not the least of which is the sheer volume of material they have to plow through in a concert season. Even when they break into trios and other smaller formats, more often than not they are performing with musical scores in front them.

Solo artists, particularly in the classical music genre, often perform from memory, but that does not mean that they will not perform a piece until it is memorized. If you can perform the piece well before completing memorization, use the sheet music and get on with it. Give the best performance that you can, memorization in most cases is icing upon the icing. The important things are linked to the music itself, the quality of your connection to it, your ability to communicate the piece, and what the audience can see of your performance. As long as you’re not hiding behind the music stand and the audience can see your performance as well as hear it, the presence of sheet music is really a non-issue. Once again, it boils down to what enables the performer to give the best possible performance of a piece that he or she can.

The lack of a music stand on stage isn’t really a mark of professionalism. All it really tells you is that the performer, hopefully, has excellent memorization skills. Granted, some forms such as opera absolutely require memorization skills because there is movement involved and the performers cannot be tied down to a specific spot on stage. If you can’t memorize the arias, you won’t get the role, no matter how well you can perform them with sheet music. Popular genres have an established no music stand on stage norm, once again largely because most of the individuals couldn’t read the material on sheet music anyway. However, the irony is that most recordings that come out industry hubs like Nashville are produced with studio musicians who are reading charts of one sort or another during the recording sessions, a skill that if they lacked they would not have the gig to begin with. In these cases the studio cats aren’t usually the same people who go out on the road with the headliners and they’re all fine with that. It’s a simple relegation of duties based upon skill sets, and often life style preferences among all of the musicians involved in the entire process.

The ability to read musical charts and scores is actually more of a sign of professionalism than the lack of a music stand on the stage. It requires very specific training, often formal training, and is a life long skill. It opens a world of opportunity to those who can read, much like the ability to read written language does for the entire population, and can actually lead to the ability to take musical jobs that non-readers simply cannot even apply for. Memorization is indeed an excellent skill, and should be encouraged, but it is not necessarily a be all end all mark of professionalism. When I go to a concert, I want to be presented with the artists’ best rendition of the music they can give. If it involves reading from a chart, so be it. It’s not robbing me of an excellent experience.

Tuning and the Nylon String Guitar, a Quick Note

Tuning is something most of us pay attention to. We play an instrument that requires attention to detail and the very nature of the classical guitar is such that tuning is a constant. The strings are less stabile than steel strings and the instruments respond to even small changes in temperature and humidity. One of the great conveniences that has come about is the evolution of the electronic tuner, most notably the clip on variety which attach to the headstock of the instrument for as long as they are needed.

At a recent masterclass with Maja Radovanlija of the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet, the topic of tuning came up, in particular when dealing with ensemble performances. Guitarists tend to rely pretty heavily upon electronic tuners and generally subscribe to the concept that A440 is always A440 on every tuner. It is supposed to work this way, but even the slightest discrepancy between “A440s” can create discord. We use our tuners somewhat religiously and rely on them to match each string to what is the accepted standard. For the most part this works, however strings differ, instruments differ, and anyone who has played a guitar for an extended period of time has been known to make adjustments depending upon the key to bring the individual instrument in tune with itself to provide the best performance.

This becomes more complicated when playing with other folks because their tuners might vary from yours, as well as their string choice, etc. In short the best way to deal with this is to have everyone tune using their tuners and then designate the “master tuner” and fine tune by ear to his or her strings. This will result in the best overall result. Radovanlija recommends devoting 10 to 15 minutes prior to performance ensuring that the group is perfectly in tune to maximize the over all tuning of the group of guitarists performing together.

Of course there will still be the need to check tuning throughout the performance as our instruments warm up in tandem with ourselves, and while tuning stability varies from guitar to guitar and string to string, it is not something we can afford to take for granted. In a perfect world, the temperature and humidity level will be the same in the green room as it is in the performance space of the venue, but often this is not the case. We also have to face those performances that have multiple groups playing in them and there are varied staging areas gradually progressing to the green room and then onto the stage. In these performance situations we can be certain that we’re going to be exposing our instruments to varied environmental influences which will affect our tuning negatively, necessitating quite a bit of adjustments along the way.

No matter how we choose to paint it, tuning is something that requires our attention and care. If we short change the time spent on it, the music suffers, the audience suffers, and ultimately we turn in a shoddy performance regardless of the amount of time we’ve devoted to rehearsing and practicing our parts. Take the time to complete the deed and we’ll all be thankful in the long run.

Musicality and the Quest for Technical Perfection

It’s odd, but a real thing. Sometimes musicians, in their quest for hitting the right notes at the right time, forget to be musical and need a reminder to get it together and make actual music. Hitting all of the right notes at the right time is important, yes, but quite frankly I’d rather hear a musical performance with a few mistakes here and there than one that was technically stellar but lacked the soul of the music. Phrasing and dynamics are two key aspects to providing some of the piece’s soul, but in order to make it all make sense the performer must have a solid understanding of what the piece has to say as well.

This is not to say that one needn’t put in the time to work toward technical perfection. The fact of the matter is that more often than not one of the main reasons the soul is missing is that the performer is under prepared technically. In this case the performer is struggling with simply putting everything where it’s supposed to be on the fretboard when it’s supposed to be there and for how long it’s supposed to be there. When one is struggling with this, the ability to focus on the musicality of the piece is severely hampered. So do you need to wait until you have the piece memorized to work in expression and imbuing the piece with life? To put it simply, no.

When we start working on a new piece we often start by sight reading as much as we can to give ourselves a chance to assess the piece in relationship to our abilities and get an idea of what sections will need the most work, as well as to give ourselves an idea of how long we can expect it to take to get it in hand. From there we should start working on the physical mechanics of learning the piece and start actively listening to others performing it, following with the score as well as simply listening to it. This gives us an assessment of what others have made of the piece, how they phrased sections and what dynamic shifts were present. Then we should start analyzing the score, looking for relationships between thematic motifs and the structure and additionally how much help the composer or arranger has given us through marking phrasing, dynamics, and additional instructions. This sets the stage for understanding how we should approach the piece both from a logical and emotional perspective. What is exactly being expressed in each section is there in the score but often takes some digging on the performer’s part in order to wring out the best presentation of the piece that we can. We need to work on this aspect of the piece in tandem with working on the physical ability to play the piece, because in reality this will often impact the choices we make in fingerings as well as where we are playing on the instrument physically.

Some folks firmly believe that the performer can only achieve a truly exemplary performance of the piece if it is memorized and I understand their perspective on this. Memorization implies an understanding of the music that has become an innate part of the performer; however, I believe that stellar performances aren’t necessarily tied to memorization skills. It is quite possible to be quite musical while having a score in front of you, as long as you have the understanding of the piece and are essentially using it as a reminder. Not having the piece memorized doesn’t mean it’s not ready for performance; it just means it’s not ready for performance from memory. Different people have different skill sets and some folks are simply not good at memorization. If those musicians waited until they had a piece memorized to perform it, they would have vast amounts of time waiting between performances that they could have given quite well with the score present. Let’s face it, most orchestral musicians do almost every performance with a score in front of them and still churn out wonderful performances. They have done the work, understand the music they are working with and bring it to life night after night without memorizing it. Yes, they have a conductor who helps, but nonetheless they have to do the work themselves to ensure the success of the performance.

If we adopt an approach where we learn the piece musically as well as physically simultaneously, the chances of delivering a sterile performance are dramatically reduced. What we want to achieve is a symbiotic relationship with each piece that we perform and in order to do so we have to understand that it is truly a symbiotic relationship. The score needs the musician to give it life and we need the score (or the piece) in order to do what we do. Neither is successful without a solid understanding and emotional connection between the performer and the piece. If this isn’t present we’re shortchanging the music, ourselves, and ultimately, the audience as well.