13: So How Does This Define Us?
Up until now – and over the course of twelve blah-gs! – we have spent a great deal of time discussing “How Fast Does it Go?” but have spent very little time, (though there have been hints…) on how making these choices defines us as musicians and artists.
First, I believe defining ourselves in these instances has less to do with the specific decisions we make in any given situation, but more in how we arrived at them. Frankly, in the case of most tempo decisions, only a few ticks of the metronome may separate the extremes of the spectrum of choices available –and rational. It is really unlikely that there will be contrasts so extreme as to be deemed – in relation to each other – “black and white”, “extremely fast and extremely slow”, and certainly more telling, “right or wrong”, etc. But these decisions do define our thought process, and thus the kind of musicians we are, as in the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, last movement discussed a few blah-gs ago. Do we believe the music to be frenetic and barely under control? Or is it held in check, gathering inertia like a cannonball rolling down a hill, where all the pent-up energy is released?
I hesitate to use this word, as it may seem pejorative (which is not my intention), but do we take the “safe” decision, secure in knowing that our tempo is an accurate reflection of the composer’s vision, or are we comfortable parsing the composer’s intent, and possibly modifying some musical parameters – such as tempo – to better reveal and elucidate that meaning?
Some other questions that are answered through this process include how we view our role as performer/re-creator. Are we the mirror through which the composer’s desire is reflected and revealed, or are we an equal partner in bringing the composer’s music to life? Is there ever an excuse to impose our own interpretive insights on a work – particularly in light of the self indulgent music making that was a hallmark of the late 19th to mid-20th Centuries - or does a scientific analysis followed by the judicious application of personal perception and taste seem appropriate? As an example, if the performer is respectful of all aspects of study and research (utilizing, for instance, some of the criteria I’ve proposed in this series of blah-gs), can the performer feel the he/she has “done right” by the composer, and then begin to look for deeper meaning through the focused and judicious application of their own judgment?
Ultimately, these are very deep philosophical questions that we all must face as co-creators of a composer’s music. But the beauty of music is that it is a malleable art form, and if we are, indeed, defined not just by the actual choices we make but by the questions and methodology we used in reaching those decisions, we can still find consolation in the knowledge that we can re-define ourselves whenever we choose, as many times as we choose, and probably do so in the course of our every day lives as musicians without even being aware of it.
Moreover, the wonderful thing is that our decision have manifested from a place of value and sincerity. Two organists with vastly different concepts on how the Widor Toccata goes can sit together, and one can say, “I see that you have researched Widor’s original performances and tempo preferences, and embrace them! I enjoyed the slower unfolding of the harmonic and melodic material that tempo allowed me to experience!” And the other can reply, “And I was thrilled and excited by the sheer virtuosity you showed in that fast tempo! It kept me on the edge of my seat and gave a sense of the architecture of the work that is hard to perceive at the slower tempo!” Both can respect each other’s views; both can be “right”.
In my next blah-g, at long last, I answer the question originally proposed so long ago regarding Widor’s famous Toccata: How Fast Does It Go? And in so doing, I will define myself…
You may be surprised, shocked, offended, or maybe even delighted…
Join me next time!