Monday, July 05, 2010

Part 2 - 10 Things I wish I'd Known

Continued from part 1 boxed text by Charles Noble, additional text and illustrations by Jen Cluff.

Charles Noble, Associate Principal Viola in the Oregon Symphony, has a very interesting blog about local musical life called The Noble Viola.
A few months ago he was asked by the Portland Youth Orchestra to write something for their on-line newsletter that he wanted to pass on to young musicians.
He put out a call on his blog for musicians to send in their suggestions of Things They Wished They Had Known as a Young Musicians. He consolidated, edited, and reworded them for 10 Things I wish I'd known as a Young Musican.

Part 2 - 10 Things I wish I'd known as a Young Musician.

4. Keep busy, and do a variety of things.

CN: This was a hard one for me to learn. When I joined the Oregon Symphony I was consumed by the demands of my first full-time professional job, but I also played chamber music, filled in with Third Angle New Music Ensemble, played recitals and concertos with various orchestras, and in general stayed busy and kept my workload varied. Variety is the spice of life, they say, and it’s very true in the musical world. The main advantage of variety is that each different sort of music-making that you do will reinforce the other. Playing in orchestra demands ensemble skills, which are reinforced by playing chamber music. Solo playing demands the height of preparation and rigorous performance standards, which benefit all of your other playing, and so on. In addition, do things outside of music. I cycle, read, blog, and cook regularly, and this makes my life more balanced and enjoyable. Sure, I still live for my music, but music is just a part of my life, not my entire life.

Jen adds: I too got caught up in round-the-clock-practicing and fretting when involved in both a heavy orchestral schedule with difficult repertoire, and two teaching jobs at the same time. The mind needs to rest and have other hobbies, or else it can become neurotic. Choose mental health over fretting and fatigue, that's my motto now. You only have ONE mental health so feed it with lots of fresh air, sunshine and delightful diversions within your demanding schedule.

5. Respect your elders and those who have more experience than you do.

CN: In music school there are various classes of musicians, but most often it boils down to two: those who can really play, and everyone else. This is all well and good in school, where there is often an unhealthy obsession with competition. In the real world, however, it’s not always about who plays the most accurately. That old guy in the back of the violins might not shred like you do, but he might have played under Copland or Stravinsky, and would have some great stories to tell. He also, chances are, knows pretty much every standard work that an orchestra plays, and would have a wealth of information about bowings and fingerings to share should you hit it off. Plus, it’s just a matter of manners. Be respectful to those who have gone before you. This is a relatively rare thing to encounter these days, and if you adopt these manners, you will distinguish yourself from the crowd.

Jen adds: I recall that conductor Benjamin Zanders makes a point about this this, regarding the respect we should cultivate for those more experienced than ourselves in the wide world of music. Zanders mentioned that he puts a blank piece of paper on every member of his orchestra's music stand at every rehearsal and invites feedback, comments, and points of interest and improvement. He says, who knows? I could be conducting Bach when there is a Bach specialist right in front of me sitting at the back of the violas; I'd love to get their expertise and help.

I wish all conductors and music edcuators welcomed input. Very often there is indeed an older more experienced expert in our midst, or even a very wise, perspicacious young student. They simply need to be invited and welcomed to share their experience with us. We're constantly learning if we stay open to everyone's expertise at all times.

6. Be a sponge, not a faucet.

CN: Most of the great musicians, artists, and people in the world have one thing in common: they are constantly learning from the world around them. This is especially important for a young musician. Every new concert, rehearsal, or gig is an opportunity to learn something. You might have played the Dvorák cello concerto several times, but did you ever really pay attention to that second oboe part at the beginning of the second movement? It’s cool, and wicked hard to pull off. Listen to how good wind players phrase - try to emulate that if you’re a string player or pianist. Listen to how great singers phrase - everyone should try to aspire to that kind of phrasing. As you learn more, resist the temptation to spew your advanced state of knowledge all over your colleagues. You will quickly earn a reputation as a blow-hard, and no one will every take you seriously again. Seriously.

More to come in Part 3.