How does your background, family heritage, and who you perceive yourself to be in the world affect the music you manifest? When you play a piece of music, how much do you focus on the composer’s position in life and their place in history? What characters do you have in your sound? Do you recognize them as something you have heard before or do they seem foreign to you?
I have written in previous posts about an old-timey sound I find myself producing on the violin occasionally. It tends to happen when I’m playing late 19th century, high romantic music such as by Schubert or Schumann. It sounds like a modal vocal range with deep, moderately slow vibrato. It is a darker sound, lyrical and somewhat melancholy. I don’t know where it comes from but when it shows up it’s like an old friend that I find rather pleasing. As a performing musician, it is important to recognize and own what influences we bring to our music.
Long overdue, classical musicians are finally performing disregarded, dismissed, overlooked music, nearly lost to history due to the race, ethnicity, and/or gender of the composer. Do we approach this music the same way as with long-standing, more institutionally well-known composers from the same era? Do we figure into our interpretation the life and times of the composer? Can we set aside our preconceived notions about the composer and our own musical biases in order to play their music with authenticity?
Life stories of the composers help performers generate excitement and inspiration when taking on a new piece of music. There is J.S. Bach’s 20 children, Beethoven’s deafness, Brahms’s friendship with Clara Schumann, Berlioz’s opium use. Some of these stories say more about the era in which the composer lived. However, some stories offer a view into the composer’s state of mind.
I believe the preparation for performing a piece by, for example, Florence Price, William Grant Still, or Samuel Coleridge-Taylor should be the same as for music by any other composer. Begin by following the markings and signs that are in the print. Read biographical information about the composer’s musical training. Research other pieces they wrote around the same time and when the piece was premiered. If there was a significant life issue either in the composer’s history or at the time the piece was composed, take this into consideration as well.
Musicians need to be detectives. Unless it is possible to ask a living composer, in person, questions about the impact of life experiences on their music, researching reputable sources is essential. Anecdotes, historical facts, and even legends can put fire in one’s belly to take on a particular piece of music. However, the music itself ultimately has to stand alone.
Like me, you may have “characters” in your sound that come out at certain times. Not addressing these “ism’s” can weaken or even cheapen a performance. Set aside your ego in service of the music no matter how well-known the composer is or what challenges they had to overcome to create their masterworks.
Musical compositions need to be regarded for their authenticity, integrity and artistry and not disregarded because of the physical appearance of the composer. Likewise, musicians need to self-reflect and dedicate themselves to performing with integrity music composed by those whose pieces have consistently been withheld from public performance.
The Inspiration For Violinists card deck This card is part of a 50 card deck. Every card has a unique image and text inspiring musicianship, mindfulness and spirituality.