“In music, one must think with the heart and feel with the brain”
–George Szell, conductor

Have you ever heard a note-perfect performance that was emotionally sterile or, on the flipside, a passionate one that was unbearably sloppy?

I’ve found that such performances occur often among music students.

And I think I know why as well as what to do about it.

The Source of the Problem
When we make music, we do so with our whole selves, melding body, mind, and spirit.

Aspiring musicians who divorce thinking from feeling, severing technical control from soulful expression, will inevitably fall short.

For instance, when some students start working on unfamiliar compositions, they first ‘get the notes’ and defer expression, thereby ingraining mechanical, unfeeling habits. Others run roughshod through new pieces, intoxicated with emotion but making a mess of intonation, rhythm, and everything else.

In both of the above cases, unwanted habits imprint, and students will be burdened to renovate what they’ve learned, typically with limited success.

Simply put, the primary source of sterile or ragged performance is sterile or ragged practice.

Merging Emotion with Precision
As I’ve written in The Musician’s Way, we need to bring both romance and exactness to everything we play or sing.

To absorb a new composition, for example, I recommend that we first get an overview of the musical landscape. Next, proceeding deliberately in sections, we map an interpretation, map the technique, and then execute our map.

In that way, every technical action serves the higher purpose of artistic expression and each interpretive feeling is supported by a technical plan.

Ultimately, by learning our material deeply and increasing tempos gradually, we can deliver inspired, precise performances.

The Feeling of Soulful Control
Here’s how I sum up the feeling of soulful control on page 187 of The Musician’s Way:

     “Elite musicians have refined their craft to where they mostly let go in concerts; they function almost entirely in artistic dimensions. Even so, when veteran artists are engrossed in performing without any intrusion from nerves, they still preserve filaments of awareness that connect everything they do. If difficulties pop up, the filaments expand into high-bandwidth channels to bring pitches into tune or an ensemble back into step.
     “Uninitiated performers often presume that they can achieve comparable freedom by merely emoting on stage and foregoing awareness. They’re mistaken. To perform fluently, you must emote and control simultaneously. You have to be able to give yourself over to the emotion of the music while you also lead the music, directing your execution and the emotional flow.
     “Adept musicians practice such that they can oversee all aspects of performing with the slightest effort. Hence, they execute easily on stage, and their emotions have free rein. For you to become that well versed, you have to acquire the skills needed to prepare for concerts and to direct yourself under pressure. Then you’ll have infinite ways to transform the zing of performing into art.”

Of course, it takes time and effort to build up musical ability. And it’s up to each musician to apply in personal ways the concepts that I lay out in The Musician’s Way. But what an amazing journey it is.

Related posts
The beauty in basics
Glorious details
Mastery and mystery
Performance-oriented practice
The power of specific goals

© 2010 Gerald Klickstein

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