Friday, October 21, 2011

Learning to Love a Piece of Music

Written by: Amy Tobin

Music is an incredible thing! From the first reading, to the hours spent practicing, to performance, a piece of music can become a part of your life in a way that few other things can. Most of the time, a piece of music will be a great partner from start to finish, but there will be those rare instances when you just don't seem to connect with a piece no matter how hard you try. How, then, do you find a way to make that piece of music something that you can relate to and find beauty in?

First of all, make no mistake about it. You will not always relate to the pieces that you are playing. Sometimes you are required to play something because you are part of an orchestra or because your teacher wants you to learn it. Every time you rehearse or practice might feel, not only like a chore, but almost like torture! When this happens, it becomes your challenge, really your responsibility, to find something in that piece that connects you to it. It is only when this happens that you can perform in a way that creates the best experience for the audience.

When I encounter these situations, the first thing I do is find a few recordings of the piece. Sometimes it is only because I am unfamiliar with the finer nuances of something that I don't feel part of it. Recently, I was playing Prokofiev's 5th Symphony with the Duluth-Superior Symphony Orchestra, and I'm not going to lie, the first time I read through the music, I didn't like it. In fact, it was so full of strange intervals and jumps on the fingerboard, I didn't think that I would ever like playing it!

I am usually quite fond of Russian music, Prokofiev in particular. I love the meanings that lie just below the surface of the music. I love the stories that are told, and the scenes that are so effectively and beautifully depicted. For some reason, though, this particular piece just felt, well, out of character from what I was expecting. I knew, after the first hour of practicing the part, that I was going to need to find the common ground between us.

I searched on YouTube for a recording, and what I found was an interview with Gustavo Dudamel, where he speaks about the "quintessential" version of Prokofiev 5 ( Herbert von Karajan, if you are wondering!). I immediately got that recording, put it on a CD, and put the disc in my car (yes, I still have a CD player in my car!). I decided to just play it so I could get familiar with the overall picture of the piece. I knew that, since I was listening to it during my commutes to different places, I probably wouldn't be that focused on it, and I might not even hear the whole thing at once, but at least it would get into my brain.

As I started to listen to it, however, it started to grow on me. I started to feel the excitement of certain parts, the longing of others, and the mixture of both sorrow and joy that is inevitably part of any great symphony. In essence, I found the humanity in the music and started to relate.

I also found that the CD was on perma-rotation in my car! I think I must have listened to it a hundred times before I actually went to the first rehearsal for that concert. When I did, however, I felt like I was meeting with an old friend. One with whom I was very intimate with and had a history with. I felt like I could arrive and make music instead of just playing notes.

After the three rehearsals we had with it, we played the concert. It was a phenomenal concert, and we were all absolutely exhausted by the end of it (the other pieces on the concert were Mozart's Marriage of Figaro Overture and Beethoven's Violin Concerto), but I walked off the stage feeling like I wanted to play the Prokofiev again. I didn't want to say goodbye to it just yet!

Hopefully, there will be another concert someday where I will get to play that piece again. For all of the discomfort I had with it at the beginning, it became one of my newest friends. I hope to see it again soon!









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