If you play something, SAY something
Brian Balmages presented a clinic about the importance of connecting with music as a language. “If you play something, say something.” He talked about the marriage of technique/fundamentals WITH artistry and “feelings.” It was an inspirational and instructive clinic!!! Read below about 3 stages of musicianship – most bands never get out of stage 1 or 2…
Music as a Language “It’s rare that I ever meet a musician who doesn’t agree that music is a language. But it’s very rare to meet a musician that really treats it like one.” –Victor Wooten – Bela Fleck and the Flecktones Elements of Music •
Understanding • Communication / Delivery • Expression / Emotion • Phrasing • Body Language STAGES OF MUSICIANSHIP (in performance AND rehearsal)
Stage 1: Hollow Musicianship • Lack of attention to basic musical markings o tempo changes (ritardando, accelerando, morendo, subito, sans) o dynamics o articulation o phrase markings o understanding of style and its role in the music • Often the first stage of rehearsal with the excuse that “we will focus on notes and rhythms first, THEN get into the music” o Inherent problem with this approach is that students get good at what they practice (in this case, get good at playing without musicality) o Important to realize we can still rehearse a group technically, but important to provide musical justification while fixing technical issues. o Ensembles often not aware of the program notes / reason behind the composition of a piece. Makes them unable to identify with the music. If students “practice music” without contextual understanding, they get good at what they practice!
Stage 2: Choreographed Musicianship • Observation and basic execution of musical markings / terms • While musical intent is there, performance seems hollow because the reason for the musical markings is not being understood nor conveyed • Often accompanied by a lack of facial expression and body language from the podium
Stage 3: Engaged Musicianship • When the reason for a marking is understood through score study, communicated to the ensemble, and conveyed through performance o Ensemble has been aware of the inspiration behind a piece and has been rehearsing with this in mind throughout the process. o All musical terms have corresponding emotional / “action” terms that are understood by the ensemble o Facial expressions / body language of conductor reflects the music General thoughts on phrasing • Everything should have musical “line” (melody, supporting harmony, rhythm, sustained notes) • Repeated notes need to have direction • Repeated phrases need to have direction (can move upward or downward) • Students play what they hear in their heads • Decisions need to be made on ensemble phrasing / breathing, not just individual • Musical breath = musical entrance Relating Phrasing to Speech • Breath (always musical and in tempo) • Letters –> Notes • Syllables –> Intervals • Words –> Measures • Sentences –> Phrases • Combination of sentences –> Complete work Musical graphs • Helpful to create a graph of the emotional arc of an entire work • Add musical terminology that appears throughout the music • Include emotional / “action” terms that correspond with musical terminology • Consider adding a second line that graphs dynamics “Action Terms” • Attaches an emotional / physical response to a musical term • Provides the “why” of a musical decision (no longer getting louder just because the word “crescendo” means “get louder”) Select Musical terms Ritardando Accelerando Crescendo Diminuendo piano forte sustain Examples of Emotional / “Action” terms Tension (or release) / relax / ponder Energy / intensity / momentum Push / energy transfer / engage Pull back / relax / calm down / (intensify) Gentle / calm / thoughtful Strong / confident / intention Commitment / constant / engaged