Friday, 31 August 2012


Musically, I have been a bit spoilt over this last couple of weeks.  Firstly, there was the British Flute Society (BFS) convention in Manchester over a long weekend, and then, here at Le Domaine des Hallais, Wissam Boustany has just held his flute course "In Search of Inspiration" for a week, with the extraordinary pianist Aleksander Szram.  I have heard music created by the foremost composers, and played by some of the world's best musicians.

The flute convention was at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, and it's great opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones, all in the atmosphere of flute-playing excellence.

I went a day early to the convention in order to hear Michael Cox, one of my favourite musicians, play the opening concert.  (You can't get from here to Manchester before 2.00 PM the same day)  I'm glad that I did.  He's been one of my favorites ever since, about 20 years ago, I bought at random, a CD of his 20th century flute music. (One second-hand copy still available at Amazon UK, I see, if you're interested) The first piece on the CD is the Ballet Suite by Vaughan Williams, and I was delighted that he played it as part of his program this time.

He is putting together a website to help new players understand the requirements of an orchestral post.  Here is one video where he is showing an element of interpretation of the Firebird ballet by Stravinsky

The main thing that allowed western classical music to expand and flourish, is the fact that it is written down.  This allows works of enormous complexity and length to be accurately communicated to any number of musicians anywhere in the world.  But it is a weakness too, best summarised by Stravinsky (I think) who noted that "Everything is written down, except that which is most essential".

What is written is a guide only, and although you have to play what's there, to do so is not enough.  It has to be interpreted, and this is the essence of musicianship.  In fact, it is better to get away from the written score, if you can.  As a general observation, performances increase in musicality as the musician goes from:

   1)  reading the score and playing it.
   2)  using the score as a reminder of what to play, and ultimately
   3)  playing from memory.

Which is why many professional musicians will play from memory. 

This parallels my experiences as an amateur player.  If I'm reading the music, the result is awful.  If I know the piece and am skimming the music to use it as a reminder, the result is not so bad.  Best results come when I have memorised the piece.  It's as if I have more brain power available to put into the interpretation, rather than using what's available to read the score.

(More on Wissam and Aleks later)


James Higham said...

Sounds good. I once put together an ensemble of young lady flautists for a few weeks but as I knew next to nothing about what I was doing, they lacked direction and it didn't take off. Pity.

The bike shed said...

In my EXTREMELY amateur and limited experience I could not agree more - what you say absolutely mirrors my experience of learning tunes on the banjo. There are books and books and more books and websites full of banjo tab - but it is only when you have 'internalised' the melody and rhythm that you can really start to play - and then begin to 'hear ' the music.

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