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.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Learning from musical kids being kids - Creativity and Honesty

© Xuejun li -
I love accompanying little kids - they are so honest about everything, sometimes painfully honest. What I love most are the times then their honesty is something quite different - when their ability to say what they are feeling without fear of criticism leads to them sharing more of themselves in their music making.

At the beginning of the summer I got to play for another Suzuki book recital.  The studio I regularly play for is a wonderfully creative and inspiring place.  The teacher, Lisa Liske-Doorandish, provides an environment where a young person's emerging voice is encouraged and applauded and these book recitals, occasions to celebrate the accomplishments of individual students, are no exception.  Each recital has a different flavor, a different spirit about it depending on the cellist that is performing.  I've accompanied some in which the child comes up with an intricate plan in regards to the order of pieces, some that are accompanied by an illustrated program, and some that include improvised transitions between the pieces.  This last recital, however, presented a new but very welcome twist to the concept of a program.  Not only was every piece listed written in a different font but the young cellist, probably around 8 or 9 years old, wrote a sentence or two describing what he felt about each one.   I'm going to include it all here because I think it's pretty precious.  (Forgive me for not changing fonts for each one.)

  1. Berceuse (Schubert) -This music is so calm and makes me want to take a nap.  I played it a lot for my baby hamsters.  I love how beautiful it is.
  2. Gavotte (Lully) - I like this piece, especially the scale section.  It feels kind of bouncy to me and the low A at the end of the scale part is my favorite note.
  3. Minuet (Boccherini) - :-(  I am kind of tired of this piece because it's long, especially after our group played it all week at Suzuki camp, but I do like the trio part because it has a strong sound when the rest of the piece is light.
  4. Scherzo (Webster) - :-) This is a fun piece to play!! I like how it goes between bouncy and calm.  The calm section reminds me of ripples on a lake.
  5. Minuet in G (Beethoven) - I like how peaceful the first part is, kind of like a sea turtle swimming.  The trio kind of reminds me of a Mexican jumping bean.
  6. Gavotte in G Minor (Bach) - This is my favorite piece in the whole book!  I love how sad it is - someone trapped in a cave while a mountain lion is circling around it.
  7. Minuet (Bach) - I like the minor part better than the major part because sad music is more fun to play because you can put more emotion in it.
  8. Humoresque (Dvorak) - This piece is about alligators gulping up butterflies.  The butterfly happily flies over the swamp and then an alligator tries to eat it but the butterfly escapes and continues flying.  The alligator tries again and the butterfly is swallowed up.
  9. La Cinquantaine (Gabriel-Marie) - I enjoy the minor part of this piece and play it with a light bow.
  10. Allegro Moderato (Bach) - This was the hardest piece in the book, not only the fingerings but putting it together with the piano.  The piano plays a completely different part and it is kind of confusing.
I think it's pretty to safe to say that those in attendance had no problem following along and staying engaged with this particular book recital.  And even though I've heard all of these pieces in the exact same order many times the music sounded different to me this time because it wasn't just about the music, it was clearly also about him.  He was sharing what the music meant to him, even when how we felt wasn't so glowing.  When he got to the Boccherini Minuet, the one that earned a sad face, I found myself rooting for him in hopes that my silent cheering would somehow give him extra inspiration.  When he got to the smiley face selection I was ready to hear him play his heart out, which he did!  And the ones with stories of butterflies, alligators, being trapped in caves, and mountain lions?  Oh my goodness, his images made it all come alive for me and gave me such a precious glimpse into this young musician's imagination and world. 

As professionals and amateurs, should we too come up with such soul-bearing, imagination-revealing programs?  I'm not so against that idea because in my experience many audiences come to performances not only to hear music, but to also get a glimpse of humanity - to feel like they are making a connection with the people on stage.  I've even had audience members not steeped in  classical music culture, tell me that they have so much respect for musicians but are somewhat intimidated by them.  When I speak to them from the heart and give them an idea of who I am they are sometimes shocked that they are being included.  I like that kind of shock and think they do too. 

So why learn from musical kids being kids?  Let's go ahead and be a little more creative and honest when it comes to programs and program notes. 

But maybe we could leave out the emoticons!  ;-)

Update:  In September of this year (2012) a twitter friend, Michael Monroe, put together an extraordinarily creative program booklet for a recital that he did where he works.  It is brilliant and is a great example of a grown-up version of the program described in my blog post.  Please take a look!

MMrecital - the Program Booklet


  1. A most intriguing concept. I really like the idea of personalized unique program notes. Thanks again for lovely word pictures and ideas!

    1. Your welcome, Janet. Thank you as always for reading and commenting!


  2. Oh, I think it's essential to have ideas like those no matter what level you're at. My ideal is to have in mind a scenario, sentence, or phrase that describes the piece I'm playing. When I at least try for that, it enhances my performing experience. This also gets you away from being too absorbed in details and missing the point, which is rarely (maybe never?) about the details.

  3. Erica, I've nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blog Award. See the nomination at Congratulations!

    1. Many, many thanks, LaDona. Truly honored that you would nominate this blog :-) I'm swamped at the moment but will try to officially accept the nomination sometime soon!

      All the best and with thanks,

    2. LaDona,
      I finally got around to paying it forward and nominating another bunch of fine bloggers. It was wonderful to sit down and think about all the bloggers that have most influenced me and to thank them by nominating them. So thank you again for kicking off the nominating process!

      All the best to you,