Saturday, October 29, 2011


The older I get it is easier to see certain things and/or patterns. One of my interests for over 35 years has been to get to the core of an issue, the heart of the matter, the CAUSE.

One of the things I realize is the cause is simple once it can be seen (or heard). BUT! It is not always easy to come to the very core cause of something and see it because that is a matter of perception development. This comes from constant penetration into the subject matter over years of working into it. We can only see what we can see at any given time.

Genetics can be the cause of certain physical conditions like baldness, serious diseases or longevity for example. But HOW we live our lives I think can either activate the not so useful genetic tendencies or activate the healthier ones. Think about how science comes to a theory then alters it when new discoveries are made that alters what was once considered 'fact.'

For many years Carol and I have been concerned with the integration of the technical and the musical. We have also been concerned as I said earlier of the cause of things. Over many years of experimenting and getting constant and consistent confirmation, what someone is connected to when they think, act or play an instrument, is a huge governing force in the potency and effectiveness of their results in the world of action. You may be wondering what does this has to do with music or playing an instrument. I would say almost everything! (Actually I would say everything).

That does not mean ignore the body and just think it and 'watch' it happen. It has to do with working with the body, i.e. embouchure, tongue, breathing, with a supportive attitude and thought that empowers the physical work.

Thought is energy. Your thoughts govern your body. Some might say that the body can affect the thoughts, of course it can. But lets take a look at some practical things in our music to help bring in the practical application of what has already been brought up.

I was conducting a class the other day, and the trumpets and the horns had something in unison. I said for the trumpets to blend more with the horns and the horns to blend more with the trumpets. And like magic, the blend was totally unified in timbre as well as pitch. I did not not pick it apart bit by bit tuning each note. It all happened with that concept.

Another example happened when the horn and trombone had the melody in Saint Saens 3rd symphony.The players were not really lining up very well. I suggested to think about the piano marking in another way rather than a volume control knob. I suggested to think of it as distant. Something in the distance. Well, like magic it happened. All the pitch, timbre and musical spirit aspects came together beautifully. All in the class could hear it and agreed it was HAPPENING.

You have most likely heard the saying 'a picture is worth ten thousand words.' How many words are in one thought, idea or concept? A connective thought is a unifying agent which acts like a magnet to all the individual details and draws them together under one purpose.

My concern as a teacher is that students and professionals who have worked with me, (and Carol), and who have experienced this kind of approach with it's effectiveness and powerful results, don't often put it to use. Why? Because the majority of the people they work with don't. It is easier to see the physical metronome and tuner than a thought which is energy and abstract in comparison.

There is the complex and the simple. My way (and Carol's) can come across as too simple and magical without paying attention to 'details.' BUT! It can also come across as very detailed in it's explanation of why it works and how it works. The way of connection is simple but getting there has it's own technique that is extremely specific and far away from being abstract or airy fairy.There is no lack of being aware of the 'details' on our parts. But the question is: what is powering the details? What details? What are they pieces of? To dismember something into details and examine them is one thing, but to not see that they are a part of a bigger picture that needs a connected thought to pull it all together, derails the spirit of the music. At this point it can turn into 'critics corner' connoisseur, picky type mentality. If someone is prone to this way and style and are getting results that they are satisfied with, then keep on it. The problem I have is this is getting to be a trend in orchestral settings, especially the audition circuit. The orchestra world could be loosing fine gifted artists to this system. Who knows, maybe something else will come with those players who can't fit into this system and to those who can but feel straight jacketed and a 'new professional' and a new orchestra will be born.


Gabe Langfur said...

Beautifully expressed Norman.

As you know from working with me, I am also always concerned with these issues and aspects of music-making. I constantly ask myself and my students: what thought process will be most useful here? What will trigger the music-making you desire?

So often, a simple (in the sense of clear and concise, not simple-minded) change in conception will make a world of difference. I saw it yesterday, working with my most advanced student at URI, whose high range seemed to have lost some of the power that it had previously. The simple idea of going for a clear and vibrant sound, specifically in the ranges leading up to the highest points of the piece (the Martin Ballade), made the entire picture come into focus.

Simple, but not simple-minded.

I sometimes hear advanced young professionals who have come up with a musical idea or feeling they want to get across, or want to be experiencing while they play...but it's clear to me that those ideas are not well-integrated with the musical-mechanical details of pitch, rhythm, note length and shape, etc. Can you comment more on how to bring them together in that case?

Norman Bolter said...

Thanks Gabe!
To address what you brought up a bit is not really so simple to answer. Sometimes people get so wrapped up in pitch, rhythm and evenness that adding 'music' to it screws them up a bit. For players that tend towards pitch, rhythm or evenness issues and are trying to go for the music, I have seen they try to make BIG contrasts without the bridge that connects one contrast to another. For this type of situation, I suggest to scale everything, i.e. dynamics, curvy shapes, expression, down into smaller increments. . Try to put them into a smaller container so to speak. This can also help to create more subtlety and planning. This point ties into things I talked about this summer on the FBSMC 3 videos about 'playing' with the basics. This can help integrate feeling into are foundational aspects. Rhythm and pitch are also a part of this. Practicing in small bits can help keep the focus more keen to be aware of the details. Not taking the time to do a bit at a time can make it difficult to process all of what we need to make an integrated musical statement. CONTEMPLATION: Pitch and rhythm can be thought of as absolutes. Are they?

Gabe Langfur said...

CONTEMPLATION: Pitch and rhythm can be thought of as absolutes. Are they?

Absolutely not. :)