Notes from the Past, Part 3
10 Wednesday Oct 2012
More notes from long ago….
The two sides of the brain interfere with each other. Therefore, a real artist (in sports or music or dance etc) has no thought because he is totally focused on the thing he is doing and the feeling of it, all of its subtle requirements, to let it be fulfilled. Left brain partisans regard this ‘no-mind’ state required to produce the art as a negative thing.
You learn technique from basic exercises, not from etudes, especially complicated etudes. Unless you break the etude down into its basic components and make an etude out of each basic component.
Western society is under the impression that without strict laws governing every part of one’s behavior – that a person will go wild in orgies of excess. This seems to be the case only with people who have been confined by such laws and are suddenly set free – without the hated laws to bind them, they engage in what they calculate to be the opposite of lawful behavior, which is supposed to be freedom. This attitude of the West is a profound distrust even hatred of the humanness of man.
What really happens without laws is that man must listen to his inner self, inner feelings. Laws represent a failure of society, because they have kept man from listening internally – only externally, and when the law is removed, he is rudderless. Laws blunt man’s instincts. A dog knows when to stop eating, but man, not listening to himself, eats way too much and eats junk food. In Europe, not much is made over the drinking age, and drink is for the most part taken as part of a meal or in relatively small quantities at social gatherings. In America, with its strict 21 or 18 laws, young people drink immediately at this age, unthinkingly and in excess; they drink to get crippled. Freedom!
Children see things as they are – without meanings attached or false importance. e.g. the Emperor’s new clothes – they must learn otherwise.
The conductor must act as left side – allow the orchestra to play, but direct its efforts as to what is acceptable.
Reason can tell you how long you should practice, but not how long you are able to practice.
2 kinds of fear:
1. Tension, anxiety, worry – from imaginings about the unseen.
2. Adrenalin – fight or flight – in the presence of a situation that the mind rates as dangerous.
2. Practice in not seeing the event as dangerous or even important.
3. Conditioning. Face some version of the stressful situation over and over until the Lizard Brain reclassifies the event as (almost) Normal, nothing to get crazy about.
It is much easier for actors and athletes to cope with this because they rehearse in the place where they perform. We rehearse at home or in a practice room and we may get one dress rehearsal if we are lucky. Solution: get to know your performance place as well as possible. Otherwise, get in all the performing you can so eventually the whole experience loses the danger element.
Eugen Herrigel: 1. Ceremony 2. Countless repetitions -> technique 3. Performance in the same place as the rehearsal.
Repetitive practice – one must practice at the speed at which he can see every detail. With RP, the details remain clear, even at faster tempos.
RP – Do 5 consecutive perfect repetitions at tempos ranging from very slow to your limit (limit = missing 1/2 the time). Keep a watch on your feelings as you approach the last rep. Slowly expand until you can do the whole piece at least 5X.
Impatient? Nervous? Keep playing (repeating) until you are calm and happy to be where you are. Lose the feeling that you must always move on. Look for every excuse to go back and do it again.
You want to reach the point where you feel you are just an onlooker to the process.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Western society is that all its ‘rules’ (which are what you learn at school or church; in music, this comes from records or from the teacher) as to what is right or not right ignores the number one criterion for a work of art: that the work discover its own rules and fulfill itself accordingly. Matisse could paint a woman’s face with a green line down the middle of it and it would be right; Stravinsky could write all those ‘wrong’ notes so gloriously that you could hear that couldn’t be anything else.
‘Rules-thinking’ says – “That is outside the rules. And so cannot be right.” Well, there is a lot of bad art is outside the rules – but so is all of the greatest art.
How can we use musical criteria to structure technical practice? The number one thing we want is the flow of the music – there must be no breaks when we play, no surprises – a missed note may happen, but if it is in the flow, it matters little. So we must try to achieve this from the beginning in our practice. We take the smallest unit that we can play perfectly with no fears, no hesitations. This may be only a note or a measure, but we should be able to play it at some tempo perfectly (if there are some elements of the piece that we cannot play at any tempo (e.g. a high note, then we should put away the piece until this element is practiced enough to be possible). Then we divide up the piece into such segments. Each segment is then practiced – perfectly – at up to, say, a dozen different tempos and at each tempo the piece is practiced until one can play it many times perfectly. Then the segments are joined to make larger elements and each larger element is practiced the same way. Eventually the whole piece is learned – seamless, no hesitations, every note is an old friend – even at a fast tempo, the eye sees every note – no blur. One flows. Only in this way can we really capture the relaxed, at home feeling of peace that we need to let the music flow spontaneously, naturally from within.
Horn is particularly in need of it because of the extreme precision and economy of energy required. Technique is so difficult that we need this more than any other instrument – this making an etude out of virtually every note, every measure, every phrase and section. The etude as it stands before us is what we finally play only at the end.
The process obviously takes a very long time to get through the piece once. But subsequent times go much faster. And what is most important – in all this practice – you practice relaxed and with a high percentage of perfection. I.e. you build in perfection into every note from the beginning and thus set the stage for musical performance, regardless of whether minor flaws or cracks happen in the performance.
Make the reason for moving on the feeling inside, and not (only) what (you think) you hear.
The composers of the Baroque and Classic era wrote their music as bare bones stuff to be filled out and brought to life by the performing musician by the use of ornamentation, variation, improvisation. The composers of recent times tend to order every last element of their music and leave no room for any additions by the performer. In the words of Gunther Schuller: “The word interpretation should be done away with.”
Zen and all should be used not only in horn playing but in every day life, in everything. Then you can say as Charles Ives said, “My music helped my business and my business helped my music.”
Poll in book of Lists: #1 fear (more than death) was fear of speaking in public.
When the Zen master answered the question of what is the true nature of enlightenment with, “Sesame bun,” he was saying that what is really important is to be experienced in common, everyday things. Also: you must experience it yourself – you cannot get the experience from anyone else.
Attitude: just do it. Don’t try to evaluate the work as it progresses; be like the child – all wonder, curiosity, and awareness – no meanings, attachments, Not: tired, old, jaded pro, who knows it all and doesn’t want to learn anything new.
The intellect and its evolution have given rise over the centuries to ever-increasing technology, that is, manufactured items that do work for man. Man can do nothing compared with certain animals: the hawk has better eyes, many animals can outrun man or have better senses of smell, hearing, etc. But by virtue of being a generalist – weak, but possessing opposing thumbs for dexterous manipulation plus an intellect that can calculate, plan and remember, he has produced items that can do all the work for him. His technological inventions gradually allowing him to subjugate and exploit the earth – intellect will always rule non-intellect. But as Robert Pirsig [Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance]said, quoting Thoreau – you never gain something but that you lose something. Technology has the effect of isolating man from himself; from the things that made it a joy to be human. Sometimes it does too much for him, which makes him weaker (do we really need electric can openers?) by doing things that he should be doing for himself. Too often, man thinks that just because it can be done, it should be done. It has led to an increasing isolation of himself with his fellow man. Television, for example, by which people passively receive entertainment, isolated in cubicles. There is something about being part of an audience at the theater or a concert or a ball game that is important; keeping people in touch; involving them more actively in what is happening (their response has a definite effect on how the proceedings go).
In certain ways, technology is wonderful – the advances in medicine that have nearly eradicated smallpox and TB. But is sad to see the loss of other skills – due to letting someone else do it for you: making a pot or a rug or reading aloud to the family – all when technology makes the individual less active. What we need to be aware of is just where this marvelous tech. inventiveness is good for us and where not. It was not good that we were able to think up and make the atom bomb. The biggest problem with society is that we spend so much time and effort producing bad things (which don’t contribute to human enjoyment) – bombs, bullets… or we work in inhuman situations for inhuman employers (large corporations whose only motive is profit, no matter how the health and well-being of either the employees, the people that use the product are affected, the environment, or society in general).
Education should be not just the acquiring of words, knowledge, etc but getting experiences. School vs. education: Why not more education in the schools: why not learn sewing, baking, woodworking, welding, auto repair, lifetime sports, cooking, basic household finance?
School requires the formulation of experience.
An educated man is one who has from schooling and experience developed many contact points – many areas of familiarity and interest so that he can relate to, understand, and communicate with large areas of the world. An ignorant man has few contacts, can send and receive little.