An interpretation of one’s own

I have never heard of plagiarism in the performance of music. I don’t think that such a thing exists. I have found that when I try to copy another violinist’s performance, the result is my own unique interpretation.  I’m not sure how this works but it feels like inspiration to me. By being inspired by another violinist’s performance, I find my own interpretation.

It is helpful to know where your ideas come from. Classical musicians are influenced by “performance practices” that go back many hundreds of years. As students, we practice repertoire over and over again, fully baking in whichever way persuaded by our teachers. An extreme example of how performance practice influences our music is in how we play rhythms.

Rhythm in “classical” music (art music composed c. 1600 to the present) is rather square. Beats are mostly divided in halves and quarters even in compound (68) and triple meters (34). We are trained to play our rhythms accurately to the smallest subdivision. This rhythmic bias becomes most noticeable when classical musicians play other genres such as jazz or rock. For instance, when backing up a tribute rock band, the orchestra members may have to be reminded to relax and loosen rhythms.

Questions from students can be off-putting. I have to roll back the tape and try to remember why I am recommending a particular fingering or bowing. However, I appreciate how these questions push me in the direction of more authenticity in my music. If I can remember when I first learned of a way to play a particular piece or style of music, I will know from whom I first learned this, what his or her motivation was, and hopefully why I have held the particular belief throughout my career.

For example, I have an adult student who was recently working on Handel Sonata in F Major. We started out with her playing from the revised Suzuki Book 6 edition. Soon after working with her, I suggested that she look at the urtext to clarify which articulations and dynamics were from Handel and which were from the Suzuki editor. At this point I realized that the Henle edition has its own edited violin part as well as the urtext. There were several conversations about why slurs were added, why there was shifting, and why dynamics were added. 

The urtext had very little to work with in terms of expressive markings. The Henle edited part includes fingerings, bowings and dynamics that are scholarly informed. The Suzuki edition is similar in many ways but has more convenient fingerings and bowings. Since it is geared towards student violinists, there are also markings designed to teach specific technical skills.

When seeking an interpretation in a piece of music, there is no right or wrong way. In my student’s case, we decided that a lot of shifting was distracting her from being able to focus on the music itself. Handel gave her permission to play mostly in first position by his omission of expressive markings.

One can be left with the feeling of the omelet without the egg if too much emphasis is placed on performance practice. It won’t hurt the music to color outside the lines especially in one’s own practicing. You could try jazzing up your music. You could try improvising on a phrase that hasn’t settled in yet. I have found that singing through phrases can uncover the direction and shape of a phrase. 

“People exercise an unconscious selection in being influenced.” – T. S. Eliot

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