February 21, 2019
Richard Wagner gave us his instructions—a recipe for making music. We know that if we follow his recipe, something great could emerge. But we also know that we can easily fall short of that.
In this session we ask, “how can we increase the chances of making something great?”
We’ll start by making sure we know what’s in Wagner’s written recipe and what it’s actually asking us to do.
Reconciling the limits of notation with our sound
- Some things in the score aren’t specified
- Yet those things are nevertheless part of every single sound in the music
- If we shape and balance those things in accordance with the elements that are specified, a great musical experience might emerge.
We will explore what to shape, how to shape it (increasing, decreasing, same/different, foreground, background, etc.), and what role the musical elements play in this straightforward and well-known piece.
- Is this the main part?
- Are the shorter notes pushing the energy forward or are they supporting the extension of a gentle resolution?
- What is the function of each phrase, harmonic and rhythmic motion?
- Who leads, who supports?
- What does this knowledge mean for how we play?
How can we determine whether what we’re doing is working? Is there only one right way to play this music? Is there only one wrong way?
The proof is in the hearing
Our listening will be our guide. Do we hear that the accompanying parts support the motion of the main part? Or are they covering it up? Do we hear that our musical energy is increasing toward the climax of a phrase and then resolving thereafter? Or is most of the energy of our sound coming at the place where it instead should be dissipating?
Do we hear whether the shaping of musical energy is balanced? Do we know where the point of greatest expansion is? Do we understand the winding path that gets us there, and the one that gets us back? Do we actually hear it?
Do we hear how the sounds come to life in this room? Do we give them enough space and time to expand and resolve clearly? Or do we step on the toes of endings and start the next phrase while they’re still reverberating?
What we’re doing
The essence of this session is listening and making sure that the entire sonic edifice of rhythm, harmony, melody and musical motion is balanced and intelligible—that it’s brought to life in such a way that an attentive listener will be able to grasp and experience what Wagner imagined could be possible.
We are the ones responsible for making sure our sounds unfold in a way that is most likely to lead to a great musical experience. The best way to know if we’re succeeding is if we have that experience.