My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Learning from musical kids being kids - Telling a story

One of my own drawings from the Ravel G major piano concerto.
And yes, it's backwards.
I seem to be doing this more and more as I grow older...sigh.  It's just like life in so many ways - when we're young, we want to play the part of the older person and when we grow old, we want to be young again.  Well, thankfully with music, it seems that being young at heart has its place.  In fact, it might even have quite a few benefits, especially these days, as many bemoan the tendency for classical music to be seen as elitist, snobby, and, well, downright boring to some.  

I think my turn down this particular path came a few years ago when I started getting back into  the freelance world again.  Frequently working with young kids now, I am constantly being reminded of how music, especially classical music, looks and sounds through the ears of a child.  After many years in grueling music school life, where one is often judged simply by the difficulty of the repertoire one is playing, followed by several years working primarily in the college setting as a collaborator, this change of pace is, to say the least, refreshing at both a personal and musical level.  It helps me to remember what music is and isn't all about.  In the next few posts, I'll be sharing what I've discovered.  Today I'll start with one of my favorites...

Music is about telling a story.  When I was young, I almost always came up with stories to run behind whatever piece of music I was learning.  My music was filled with little drawings that kept the notes alive for me both during practice sessions and during performances and I was always eager to relate those stories and drawings to others.  I don't know quite when that stopped.  I know I was still doing it a bit in college, much to the amusement of one of my piano professors.  Fortunately this particular teacher was also still young at heart so she too joined in the fun at times, sometimes sticking a sticker smack in the middle of my music that represented how she felt about a particular part.  But after that, for whatever reason, I let a lot of that creativity go.  Now, working with kids again, the joy of animating music is being sparked in me once again.  

Recently I accompanied a young girl on one of her Suzuki book recitals.  These recitals are humongous deals in the Suzuki world and for good reason.  These kids get up and perform an entire book by memory with recitals sometimes taking up to 30 minutes without any breaks at all.  This one girl I was accompanying decided that she needed to do something to make this event more meaningful for her.  She came up with a storyline to connect one song to another and to unite all of the songs in that one book, in spite of the fact that they really have nothing to do with one another.  She then wrote down the program and drew pictures to illustrate her story.  Here's what she came up with:

I had no idea that this young cellist had done this until I got to the recital.  Grabbing the program before I walked backstage to greet her, I casually looked down to remind myself of what we were doing and I stopped dead in my tracks.  I couldn't believe what I was seeing even though what I was seeing was simply an honest extension of what this young musician felt about the music she was about to share.  When I got backstage I sat down and asked her to tell me about the pictures and she said, with a bright smile that made her face glow, "Oh, they're not just pictures, it's a story."  She proceeded to give me a blow-by-blow, pointing to each picture as we got to that part of the story and even humming bits of the songs to help me place what she was describing.  Well I have to tell you, by the end of this little personal moment, I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.  What I had imagined was going to be yet another replay of the same book recital that I've done many, many times, was obviously not going to be just that.  And this moment reminded me that there can be so much more to music than just the notes or even just a set of general feelings and emotions.  

And the recital?  Did this young girl's creative imagination improve her memory or make her performance a "perfect" performance?  Well, I don't know.  There were still slips here and there but that's just the reality of performance for anyone.  For me, it was a wonderful recital and a heart-warming experience because not only did we hear some great cello playing but we also learned and experienced a great deal more of who this girl is in more than just a musical way.  

So am I going to start drawing pictures in my music once again?  I don't know.  I guess you'll just have to pull me aside next time you see me and ask to see my music.  You never know what you might find there! 

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