Monday, December 22, 2014

Definitions


This post is one I've been meaning to make for a long time. Below you will find my own definitions to terminology I use periodically.

The Performance

A sacred act in music. The moment when energy, which exists without form, is formulated by, and transmitted through the performer(s). The energy is then received by an audience, whose response returns back to the performer(s). The performer(s) prepare for this activity yet they are guided in the act by inspiration (sprezzatura). The goal of this activity is a shared experience between performer(s) and audience. 

Historically-Informed Performance (HIP)

Movement in 20th/21st Century classical music involving numerous aspects of performance. Musicians self-identifying in the HIP movement perform on period- and regionally-specific instruments (or copies of instruments) relating to a given work. Emphasis is placed on the understanding of past performance practices and contextual research. Any work from any time period can be subject to an historically-informed performance. 

Early Musician

A musician who has undergone a reevaluation in their development. One who has gone through the traditional classical music upbringing and is later introduced to HIP. This reevaluation includes a period of time focused on developing skills on a period instrument (or instruments), study of primary sources relating to performance practice, period-specific contextual studies, as well as an analysis of the goals of that musician and how they relate to the goals of HIP.

Period-Instrument Performer

Musicians who self-identify with the HIP movement but who have not undergone the above-mentioned reevaluation. Most often this musician plays a period instrument (or copy), or owns relevant equipment to perform with early musicians (baroque bow, gut strings, etc.). However, a period-instrument performer can have spent their whole development in HIP. Regardless of their introduction to the movement, period-instrument performers have not often fully considered the goals or merits of the movement and how they relate to their own. The technical level of these players can vary from amateur to world-class professionals.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Enlightenment

Eubo's last six concerts have been quite intensive for its bassoonist. With solos or soli sections in Jean-Féry Rebel's Les Éléments, as well as a number of vigorous passages in our combination suite of dances from Rameau's Zaïs, Platée, and Les Boréades, I've had to work harder than ever before in concert and there is no doubt that any bassoonist would shudder a little to think of how much energy it would take to go the distance. What kept me looking forward to every night wasn't the challenge, however, it was the opportunity to play Rameau's Entrée de Polymnie, from Les Boréades. It is one of, if not The, most beautiful pieces ever written for strings, flute, and obbligato bassoon.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Elements

A few weeks ago in MOMO class we had an exercise where every student had to speak for a minute or two on a given subject. Mine was 'age'. "If a conservatory were to hire a talented 21 year old in 1960, the hiring committee would, and did, see the candidate as an investment in the future of the institution. If that same candidate were to be hired today the decision would be looked upon as 'risky' and no doubt there would be a call for the committee to reexamine their options. So," I asked, "when do I lose my youth?" At that moment a discussion started. Discussions rarely happen in MOMO, but when they do there is plenty to think about.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Apples and Oranges

After witnessing some coverage of the annual Apple Inc. launch I couldn't help but be stunned. A company who sells gadgets and gizmos has been held up so high by North American society that even news corporations shamelessly cover their event with previews, speculations, summary articles, as well as even 'live blogs'. Apple's branding has become so successful that many people my age see themselves as part of a tribe. Whether or not they are up to date with the equipment, I'm sure many of us have had that jokey conversation when, at a table loaded with smart-phone users, someone pulls out the apple product to cat-calls.

Marketing these days is becoming so pervasive that it is hard not think to define ourselves by what we buy, rather than who we are. Just yesterday I was on the train to Liestal and saw a billboard ask "who are you?" asserting that we would 'find ourselves' by what we bought at their store. Marketing is everywhere and it's getting sneakier the more we learn to ignore it, and branding has the potential to have a powerful grip over the way we act. Just look at the Apple announcement as an example.

Are you a dog person, or a cat person? An Apple user, or a PC user?
Apple makes the front page of many news services today
Rituals can be powerful and those who might have wanted their fix could certainly have gotten theirs at the launch yesterday in Cupertino, California. Hardcore techies, reporters, and other choir members were made witness to quite the spectacle. U2 performed and CEO Tim Cook, holding the traditional role of the 'priest', displayed the miracles of his new technology to the onlookers. Curiously, the late Steve Jobs, whom we've all seen on the face plastered on books and other news articles since his death, has taken on the role of a quasi-deity. Just read this headline. This ritual, however fantastic it may seem, has a rather insidious goal. Where traditional religions encourage charity, spirituality, the rejection of materialism; Apple's paradigm sees these inverted with materialism and self-gratification taking top positions. Different here from tradition is that Apple's devices not only position themselves as to make you happy, they continue to build themselves into how you manage your life. It has replaced your phone, calendar, it's now reaching into your wallet, and let's not speak about how devices like these have changed social behaviour. It's all worrying to me as a performer.

It isn't so much the power of the brand which worries me the most, it's the fact that the catalyst for Apple's success came with a device purported to make music easier to carry, as well as to access (as long as you had the money to pay for it, of course): the ipod. Since its introduction in 2001, digital music downloads through services like itunes, have continued to take larger portions of the market and it's inconceivable today for a musician not to release their albums digitally. More importantly, itunes' popular business model - setting most songs at $0.99 a track - helped quantify the value of a performance to the average listener.

Music is something everyone likes, and no matter what your favorite genre is the musicians who make a career to entertain, to challenge, to move you must do so by performing for a live audience. A recording may be an excellent business card, a good way of telling whether you a certain musician or the music they perform, but don't let the current market culture tell you that you are what you own. The very nature of performance stands antithetical to Apple's branding, as a performance only exists in the moment. Once that moment has ended, it's gone never to return. Unlike a digital download. Troubling here that a corporation has managed to have so much impact on a culture all the while creating the perception of being a champion of music.

What I mean to say here today is, essentially, don't let the glamour of technology let you substitute it for experiences which might, in fact, help you discover who you are. Don't be fooled by those billboards telling you that you are what you buy; it's your collective experiences, your values, your deeds which define you. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

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