Sunday, February 6, 2011

MSM master class

This afternoon I gave a master class at the Manhattan School of Music. Four bassoonists in the Orchestral Studies Program played; Kathryn Brooks, Daryn Zubke, Sasha Pavlov and Alex Posada.

All four played well. The master class fit into a pattern I've observed at many of the ones I've given over the years. Student brings in a few excerpts or etude or piece with most of the basics covered -- technique, intonation, good sound all in place-- but with little or no interpretation or compulsion in the playing.

This is not a knock on what I heard at MSM, but a general trend I've observed in giving these classes.

The tight job market and the presence of peers and a guest teacher seem to induce a desire to please and play it safe. Often you can literally hear the voices of the many teachers who've offered comments to these students in the playing.  The voices drown out the student's voice at times! At some point the student needs to absorb what the teachers have said, but synthesize the comments with what he or she has to say on the bassoon.

Certainly there are some excerpts that leave no room for personality, e.g., Beethoven 4th, but Shostakovich 9th or Sheherazade should be seen as challenges to dig deep inside one's self, mine the emotions, life experience and study of recordings and performances to come up with something genuine and personal. The young artist must absorb the traditions of the past, but must also craft interpretations from some sort of inner drive that must be let out in the playing. 

I think of the story of Wagner's Die Meistersinger, in which Walther comes on like a bull in a china shop with his singing, is initially rebuffed, but through some mentoring with Hans Sachs, composes his Preislied and wins over the Meistersingers. Check out that opera. A really great examination of how artistry is built.

Another interesting examination of this process is found in the movie, The Black Swan. In it a ballerina is challenged to move out of her comfort zone to inhabit the roles of the White and the Black Swan. The White Swan comes easily for her because it fits her artistic temperament ("I just want to be perfect!"). The Black Swan is a stretch for her, but, in learning the role, she finds a side of herself that she didn't know was there.

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