Musical Musings

One of the best part of my new job at the College of Music at Florida State University is getting to sit in on some amazing master classes and guest presentations by leading figures in the world of classical music. Here are some of the ideas that I have distilled from a number of master classes and other presentations by world-renowned artists and teachers who have traveled to Tallahassee over the past several months. I have been inspired to incorporate many of these insights into my own practicing, composing, and performing during the past few months; I hope they will inspire you, too!

“Master Class Musings”
Music is crisis! It embodies emotional tension and heightened experience. Audiences are not interested in narratives about the everyday. Therefore, as an artist (whether as a composer or a performer), you cannot be shy. You and your art must take on wild qualities.

Artists take risks! We must fight the tendency to want be too cautious, too calculating. But caution rarely leads to great beauty. Caution more often leads to boring music and boring performances. Allow passion, emotional tension, and risk to drive your creativity.

When creating music, think in terms of arcs of meaning. If working with a text, the arc should be apparent in the words themselves. Then peg specific musical motives to their most appropriate place in that arc. Decisions about tempo and pacing, phrasing, and rhythm will all give shape to the underlying emotional atmosphere of an extended passage of music. A passage of music is “an emotional point of view.” An entire piece is an accumulation of emotional points of view, and accumulation of emotional tension. Guard against over-extending or under-delivering that emotional tension.

Find the colors of your instrument. Try to imagine dynamics as colors or affects (such as “energy” or “decisiveness” or “happiness”) rather than simply as levels of loudness or softness. In such a scheme, “forte” might mean “exaggerated” rather than “loud.” Therefore, as a performer, cultivate an attitude toward the music that allows the arc of the line to determine how you understand its color.

Learn to communicate to many types of audiences.

Figure out what added value you want to bring to people’s lives, then define musical excellence in terms of successful delivery of that value. If you follow that sort of approach, “musical excellence” may look different in your work or your compositions or your performances than it does for someone else. But that is a distinctive.

Keeping knocking on doors of opportunity until they open.

{The musings above are my distillations of inspiring presentations — as well as my thoughts about those presentations — during Fall 2015 rather than direct quotations from guest artists and presenters. I would be happy, however, to share more about some of the specific master classes and who some of those guests artists were. If you are interested, please contact me, or leave a comment and I will answer as quickly as possible. Stan}