Monday, December 17, 2012

When Do Notes Become Music?

Sandra Kipp
By Sandra Kipp

I think it is very important to teach our students that simply playing the correct notes and rhythms with some emotion doesn’t create “music.” Music is an art, not ink dots on a page. Music existed for centuries before anyone decided to write it down. Music was passed on and taught from teacher to student, professional to apprentice, parent to child, by listening and playing, not by handing each other a piece of paper. I see too many flutists move from one solo to another as soon as they have what I call the first four levels of music: notes, rhythms, articulations, and dynamics. But until a student gets to the fifth level – musicality, interpretation, and phrasing – it isn’t music and it isn’t finished!

I have used many analogies to help my students understand the importance of getting passed the first four levels of music to the level of true art. A good analogy may help this concept be more thoroughly understood by students, rather than a teacher simply saying, “You are not finished with this piece.” Here are two of my favorite analogies:

A “Recipe” for Musicality
Written music is not unlike a recipe in the culinary arts. A recipe is a piece of paper; a recipe is not a plate of lasagna, a slice of cake, or a bowl of soup. A recipe contains a list of all the necessary ingredients and instructions on how to create the culinary delight. But until a cook (or in my case, a person with a microwave) buys and combines the ingredients and follows the instructions, it is just a piece of paper with ink on it. Sheet music is not music; it is a piece of paper with ink on it. It has instructions of what notes to play, how long to play them, how fast or slow, how loud or soft, how accented or smooth, but it doesn’t contain the character, the emotion, or the art until a musician learns and combines all of the necessary ingredients and breathes life into. To whet the appetite of your audience and feel personally satisfied, you must present an artistic performance with all the character and emotion the composer intended us to present. Remember, the composer first conceived of the work in his heart and mind before writing down a recipe on paper for musicians to interpret. Don’t settle for being a fast food cook, be a musical culinary gourmet chef!!!!!

“The Theatrical Side of Music”
Anyone can pick up a script or play and read the words aloud. But just reading the correct words doesn’t make a person an actor. I do a humorous demonstration of a bad actor reading her lines and having no ability to create a feeling or mood, or even worse, creating a completely different emotion than what the writer intended. And I ask my students, “Does reading these words make me an actor?” Of course, the answer is “No!” Actors will often ask their directors, “What is my motivation in this scene?” The actor needs to know what feelings or emotions are intended. She needs to know what type of effect her character is intended to have on the audience. Great musicians are actors. We need to know what emotions or character the composer intended and within this framework be able to also add our own character. Just reading the words does not make a performer an actor. Just playing the correct notes does not make a performer a musician. The great news is that when we truly reach an artistic level with a piece, there is nothing as wonderfully satisfying for us as performers or for our audience! Making music truly makes us artists!

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