Retake: Shifting the Focus back to Expression and Creativity

March 12, 2011

Below is an article I posted on my own blog, The Sensible Flutist.  Since I wrote this piece, I have began working in a more organic fashion to piece together all the elements that create a musical performance full of emotional energy that fulfills the composer’s intent.
Our own self-awareness can either hinder or help our efforts to piece together the musical foundation, technical elements of the instrument we play, and the physical aspects. This is my journey, and I believe that students can benefit from studying a mixture of all three elements. If students have a sense of the holistic big picture by incorporating the physical and intuitive into their music studies, they will go on to to be happier, healthier musicians that are able to more easily let go of the various psychological factors that often creep into our performances as we get older.
Expression and creativity is the essence of what we do, and below are a few ideas of how you can begin working within that expressive framework.
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I’ve been having a conversation on Twitter with @MazzaClarinet otherwise known as Marion Harrington, a professional clarinetist and motivational author (http://marionharringtonclarinet.com/). The conversation began as a discussion of the importance of academia on musical interpretation and the positive or negative impact it has on one’s natural inclinations and this discussion has transformed into one about the sacrificing of musical expression for technical perfection.

Students that enter college to study music must take an assortment of theory and history classes in order to develop a framework for them to become better musicians. It’s critical to a student’s development to have this academic education in order to return to music with a enlightened view of its structure and historical context; however, viewing music in strictly academic terms will render the music void of any expression whatsoever. I discussed this point in an earlier post (http://sensibleflutist.blogspot.com/2010/06/personality-of-musician-deeper-look.html). I would go further than I did in my previous article, and state that having a certain amount of talent paired with a solid musical education will produce a musician with a heightened sensitivity to the music.

From this, the conversation took a turn towards the question of creativity and how so many performances nowadays are technically accurate or “note perfect” but lacking in musical expression. For flutists, the current focus leans toward technical superiority and perfection. My guess is that this focus extends through all woodwinds because of the physically emcompassing requirements of playing a wind instrument. We get so wrapped up in the physical and technical side of playing the instrument that we forget why we committed ourselves to music in the first place. I certainly didn’t start playing the flute because I wanted to learn to control my breathing or have fast fingers. I began playing the flute for the expressive powers and potential it holds.

I attended several masterclasses over the summer, and most of the focus was on technical aspects of flute playing. This approach is ingrained in me so much that I find it incredibly difficult to listen to beautiful flute playing without scrutinzing every detail rather than appreciating the beauty; however, by the same token, it’s difficult to find recordings that give you a glimpse into the whole package. Encouraging young musicians to attend live performances is one of the most important steps we can take to shift the focus from technical playing to free and creative.

So what other ways can we start changing this focus? We’re musicians with a creative urge to find solutions. We are always looking for solutions to improve and do things better. I think that flutists (and any other instrument that falls into this perfection obsessed category) should take the opportunity to listen to vocalists, pianists, and stringed instruments. Attend masterclasses for other instruments than your own – it’s eye opening to see how they approach their music. Take the universal musical ideas you learn from them, and apply it within your own playing. Go to solo recitals of other instruments.

Improvisatory exercises are extremely useful when exploring the bounds of your own creative musical expression. When you take away the visual, your heighten your other senses and the music begins to become a natural, non-thinking extension of who you are. I really enjoy attending jazz concerts to see and hear the freedom of these musicians. I strive for the same freedom in my playing. As David Thomas (@DTClarinet) stated on Twitter, playing a piece of music is a “recreative” process, but also takes imagination. I think that pairing the improvisatory freedom of non-thinking with real imagination will increase your control over a piece of music and bring out expressive qualities in your playing that will engage your audience in a real-time narrative.

The beauty of music lies in its ability to engage the entire realm of human emotion, and express happiness, sorrow, anger, tell a narrative or paint a picture. By engaging the self through creative and imaginative self-exploration, we break the mold and become free-thinking, musical individuals.

*Shifting the Focus back to Expression and Creativity was originally posted on The Sensible Flutist (http://sensibleflutist.blogspot.com) on September 5, 2010

Alexis Del Palazzo ©2010

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2 Responses to “Retake: Shifting the Focus back to Expression and Creativity”

  1. DanLisMusic Says:

    Great post! As a composer, improvisation is key to my life, and I agree that improvisation is a huge benefit for all performers. It seems that the disconnect between the artist and the instrument can grow without creation on the instrument. The best situation, then, is to be able to create on the instrument better–which is one reason why one enjoys playing an instrument. Very intriguing!
    Dan


    • Thanks for the taking the time to read and comment! It’s much appreciated.

      As a teacher, my goal is to expose musicians to the power of improvisation even if you think you’re no good at it. You create from the heart – improv is a beneficial skill to be practiced, but the fear of starting is what keeps many of us from full musical expression and enjoyment. Thanks again!


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