Alice in Texas

Not writing here anymore- see top post for details of my new blogs.

Friday, June 10, 2005

notes in D minor


My violin playing has improved more in the last week than it ever did during years of study. I can actually make a decent sound now, when I know the notes well enough to stop thinking about fingering and just listen instead, and have decided that the Bach Chaconne from partita #2 in D minor is playable. Not that anyone would want to listen to me playing it quite yet. But still, great strides.

Here are some lines from Once Upon a Time in Mexico:

Piano teacher: Music is pure, from one's soul. If the soul is pure, the music flows free.
Barillo (bad guy): And if the soul isn't pure?
Piano teacher: Then you must practice like a (censored)

Of course most of us need both. We can't learn to play the violin or the piano (or the guitar, the central metaphor in Rodriguez's movie) without lots of practice. But the sounds only become music when one's mind is in the right place.

However, the piano teacher is also right. Practice for its own sake is useless. If all one does is repeat things, mistakes as well as skills will be reinforced. My violin playing is improving because of the way I have been practising, not just because of the fact I have been practising. Unlike when I was a music student in my youth, I have been playing for the sheer enjoyment and beauty of it, and only music I love a lot. Not one negative thought about lack of innate talent or comparative lack of skill has passed through my mind. I feel incredibly lucky to have the knowledge I do have, and wanted only to use it to make and enjoy music.

I haven't bothered with technical exercises, set fingering or bowing markings, and I haven't got hung up on the fact that two of my strings are poor quality and need replacing. Most of all, I have been feeling confident. I am pleased and happy with what I am doing, instead of regarding it as pointless because there are plenty of other "proper" musicians who could do it better.

And my newfound sensible positive attitude has vastly improved my playing. I have made lots of technical adjustments without thinking of them as such, just from being more aware of what it's all about. Instead of trying to wipe out obstacles and difficulties, I get insights about where better to aim, and they very often work. Because, where I'm aiming at is making music, which is over and above notes, fingerings, triple-stops and bowing techniques. The music is not contained on the page of notes, waiting to be liberated: the page of notes is only part of the music. The music is the sounds, and the listening, and the dynamic relationship between the two. Listening is the key to making better music.

I have more to say about listening and seeing in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, King Lear and a speech by Dr Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations
of the Commonwealth (go here then click on "faith" and it's the fourth lecture down), but my ideas will have to distill somewhat first.

By the way, I don't necessarily recommend the movie to everyone. It's very violent. The most violent scene, though, comes directly from King Lear. Score ten bonus points if you know which scene I am talking about.


At 4:01 PM, Anonymous wheels said...

On the subject of practicing, I've attended Pete Wernick's Banjo Camp a couple of times. He says he has two practice modes: "The banjo is my friend," and "The banjo is my enemy."

In the first mode, he plays things that he enjoys, or just plays around to see what kind of sounds he can get.

In the second mode, he does repetitive and detailed work in order to get a specific technique or particular passage under control.

Pete says that you need to strike a balance between the two: too much of mode 1, and you don't improve. Too much of mode 2, and you lose your enjoyment.

Also on the subject, I'm currently reading Madeline Bruser's "The Art of Practicing," which is an interesting read. The Amazon page is here:

By the way, I'm glad to see you're back.

At 9:38 AM, Blogger Jon Barnard said...

I assume the Lear scene you're referring to is the one where Gloucester's eye is plucked out. I've always been squeamish about eyes, and was rather traumatised as a child by a BBC production of Lear in which Leo McKern played Gloucester. McKern had a glass eye, so that scene was gruesomely realistic.

Oh, and welcome back!


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