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Discussion Starter #1
I'm reading a novel called The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch and in it he writes:

Mulisch said:
She was a professional musician; she knew that making music was not about expressing emotions but about evoking them: and that could only succeed when it was done professionally - that is, dispassionately, like a surgeon operating, regardless of theatrical grimaces conductors and soloists often pulled when they knew they were being watched.
I thought this was an interesting idea, and though I don't necessarily wholeheartedly agree with it verbatim I think there might be some truth in it - perhaps less so for jazz than for classical.

Anyway, I'd be very interested in other people's opinions...

(by the way the character being discussed is a cellist FWIW)
 

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I like the idea. I can dig it without having to yea or nae it. Playing dispassionately, might not exclude playing with feeling and sincerity.

I'd rather ponder the thought, than argue the merits of the idea that provoked it.

I'd like to read this book I think.

BTW The best musical quote I ever heard, was attributed to a conductor adressing a female cellist. I think Marty might remember the line.
 

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I've seen some emotional train wrecks during performances which I found very funny, not to mention distracting. Do we really need to snort and bob about like a bobble head?
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Here's the book

and I hadn't realised this but here's the film too.

I'm only up to Ch 9 of 65 so I cannot really comment on how good the plot is or how well it'll hang together overall as yet, but the dialogue is very enjoyable and the characters are interesting, plus the author is quite obviously very intelligent so lots to learn as well...
 

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Carl H. said:
I've seen some emotional train wrecks during performances which I found very funny, not to mention distracting. Do we really need to snort and bob about like a bobble head?
Carl,

What were you doing in the rest room, during the performance? I went to a cafe called "Cokie's" in NY once, where people were snorting and "bobble-heading." It was surreal. :D
 

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The bathroom was called "the pit", and yes it is cellists who seem to have these tendencies. I played with a guy who was a bit below average, but full of self hype, who "emoted" so much you'd think Casals studied with him. He spends all his time teaching now because nobody will hire him to play, and yes, he was an equipment snob too!

Life in a performance is one thing but who wants cartoon style animation?
 

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Dog Pants said:
Playing dispassionately, might not exclude playing with feeling and sincerity.
The blues is a feeling, not your feelings.


This argument originates, BTW, in the debate between Aristotle and Plato about whether artists are disciplined and valuable members of society (Aristotle) or dangerous lunatics who ought to be banished from the commonwealth (Plato). Curiously, "artsy" folks tend to side with Plato, whereas as practicing artists (1970s excluded:)) have typically had a deep suspicion of egotism, mere emoting, and other forms of w**king. The one criticism Coltrane deeply objected to, for example, was that, in his extended solo excursions, he didn't know exactly where he was and what he was doing.

Although it's not about music, one of the best, most eloquent, and most convincing, versions of the Aristotelian position can be found in T.S. Eliot's canonical essay, "Tradition and the Individual Talent." Eliot argues, in fact, that creating "dispassionately" is the only way an artist can achieve a level of "feeling and sincerity" that's worth attending to.

But then he also says that no one under the age of 25 should be allowed to write poetry:D .

R.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
rleitch said:
The blues is a feeling, not your feelings.
Very succinctly put.

I had my private lesson last night and I played the head and then improvised over a backing of Cantaloupe Island (we're working on modal improv) and I really got into my improv but afterwards he criticised my sloppiness - intonation and timing all over the place, which was not happening whilst I played the head - and I'd got so into it that I hadn't even realised. This really brought me down to earth with a bump and I learned a lesson about how important it is to maintain musical discipline even when I'm going for it. Tonight I'm going to be much more critical of my technique whilst improvising when I practice.

rleitch said:
This argument originates, BTW, in the debate between Aristotle and Plato about whether artists are disciplined and valuable members of society (Aristotle) or dangerous lunatics who ought to be banished from the commonwealth (Plato).
Well I don't think there can be too much debate about who was right in that argument :)

rleitch said:
no one under the age of 25 should be allowed to write poetry:D .
Certainly someone should have stopped me!
 

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This thread reminds me of a saying I first saw on SOTW:

Playing The Blues isn't about feeling better, it's about making other people feel worse......and making a few bucks while you're at it.

Seriously, I disagree with the quote in the original post (except maybe when playing something by Telemann). I do not believe any "artist" whether it be an actor, musician, dancer, or painter can genuinely convey the expression inherent in their "work" to an audience without feeling that expression in themselves. To perform otherwise presents only a "parody" of the work being performed lacking its true essence.

I have seen many gifted performers over the years who genuinely "get into" the piece they are playing at the time, even though they have performed the song hundreds of times before. I have also seen performers who are playing with flawless technique and interpretation who obviously are just going through the motions. It is my recognition of this second group that tells me that the first group I mentioned are not faking it, but genuinely feeling the music.

The robot playing "Giant Steps" on tenor sax is pretty impressive when it comes to technique and rhythmic accuracy. Let's hear him play "Body and Soul" with all the right phrasing and dynamics changes and then compare that to a player who actually has a "body" and a "soul" and human emotions. I rest my case.;)
 

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Discussion Starter #10
jbtsax said:
I do not believe any "artist" whether it be an actor, musician, dancer, or painter can genuinely convey the expression inherent in their "work" to an audience without feeling that expression in themselves. To perform otherwise presents only a "parody" of the work being performed lacking its true essence.
I'm not so sure that it's as cut and dried as that and I guess that's the point. As a pro you cannot let your own emotions get in the way of your performance, you have to convey what that particular piece of music is meant to convey and you have to do that whether you've just fallen in love or whether you've just received an unexpected 5 years back dated tax bill, but what you have to do is always convey it to the audience, regardless of whether you feel it in yourself.

jbtsax said:
I have seen many gifted performers over the years who genuinely "get into" the piece they are playing at the time, even though they have performed the song hundreds of times before. I have also seen performers who are playing with flawless technique and interpretation who obviously are just going through the motions. It is my recognition of this second group that tells me that the first group I mentioned are not faking it, but genuinely feeling the music.
To play devil's advocate, isn't that the point - the first group of musicians conveyed the emotion to you and second lot didn't. How can we know whether that's because they were genuinely feeing exactly what you thought they were feeling or whether they were actually being very good at conveying that emotion to you as the audience because they were being professionals?
 

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Rick Adams said:
I'm reading a novel called The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch and in it he writes:

She was a professional musician; she knew that making music was not about expressing emotions but about evoking them: and that could only succeed when it was done professionally - that is, dispassionately, like a surgeon operating, regardless of theatrical grimaces conductors and soloists often pulled when they knew they were being watched.



I thought this was an interesting idea, and though I don't necessarily wholeheartedly agree with it verbatim I think there might be some truth in it - perhaps less so for jazz than for classical.

Anyway, I'd be very interested in other people's opinions...

(by the way the character being discussed is a cellist FWIW)
A choral director I had, who was probably the best overall musician I have ever had the pleasure to work with and who taught me more about music and its performance than anyone, told us much the same thing on many occasions. Big difference between experiencing and conveying emotion. And experiencing strong emotion while performing can indeed wreak havoc with the performance. BTW, I don't equate lots of facial grimacing and peculiar bodily
 

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Rick Adams said:
I'm reading a novel called The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch and in it he writes:

She was a professional musician; she knew that making music was not about expressing emotions but about evoking them: and that could only succeed when it was done professionally - that is, dispassionately, like a surgeon operating, regardless of theatrical grimaces conductors and soloists often pulled when they knew they were being watched.



I thought this was an interesting idea, and though I don't necessarily wholeheartedly agree with it verbatim I think there might be some truth in it - perhaps less so for jazz than for classical.

Anyway, I'd be very interested in other people's opinions...

(by the way the character being discussed is a cellist FWIW)
A former choral director of mine, who was probably the best overall musician I have ever had the pleasure to work with and who taught me more about music and its performance than anyone, told us much the same thing on many occasions. Big difference between experiencing and conveying emotion. And experiencing strong emotion while performing can indeed wreak havoc with the performance. BTW, I don't equate lots of facial grimacing and peculiar bodily movements with an emotional or soulful performance--many times it's a distracting affectation, whereupon I close my eyes and focus on hearing the music.
 

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Nicely put jbtsax,

But the question is not whether emotion has a role, but rather which ones. To use your robot analogy: imagine two fantastically sophisticated robots, both are equipped with super-powerful robot brains that took millions of years to develop and both are playing "Body and Soul (aka Software)." One, let's call him Rory, is expressing himself throught the song, really letting it all hang out, robot-wise, while the other, let's call him Ben Webster, has left his own robot ego at the doorstep and is playing in a way filled with the emotions inherent in the song, and the musical tradition in which it participates, and with a passion commensurate not with his own feelings, but with his role, his persona, as a professional artist. Both would be parodies, as you put it, of human performances, but who would you prefer to listen to play Body and Soul, Rory or Ben Webster?

Cheers,
Rory
 

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A perfect example of this...I watched a little bit of "Dave Koz at the Movies" on PBS. He did so much vogueing and facial "emoting" that I couldn't stand listening to the syrupy music.
 

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jbtsax said:
This thread reminds me of a saying I first saw on SOTW:

Playing The Blues isn't about feeling better, it's about making other people feel worse......and making a few bucks while you're at it.
That's a classic from Bleeding Gums Murphy on "The Simpsons"



I've heard many different orchestral musicians talk about how playing night after night in a professional orchestra is mostly about "cranking out widgets." That is, just sitting there and playing with great tone, pitch, phrasing, etc. One very fine trombonist I know refers to his orchestral gig as being a "Trombone Operator".

My own experience is that when I'm playing the most common emotion I feel is just that I'm happy to be playing music, and that I love music (I have that feeling, even when I'm playing a "sad" song).

There have been many times over the years when I have been going through hard times or just having a bad day, when I have (in improvised solos) "vented" some of my feelings through my horn. Don't know if it made the "product" any better, but it sure made me feel better. :)
 

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Rick Adams said:
I'm not so sure that it's as cut and dried as that and I guess that's the point. As a pro you cannot let your own emotions get in the way of your performance, you have to convey what that particular piece of music is meant to convey and you have to do that whether you've just fallen in love or whether you've just received an unexpected 5 years back dated tax bill, but what you have to do is always convey it to the audience, regardless of whether you feel it in yourself.
We may be saying the same thing here. My point is that the true artist puts his/her personal thoughts and feelings based on the day's events aside during the performance and "gets into" the feeling of the music that was put there by the composer. This is not being phony or "acting the part" but genuinely substituting the composer's thoughts and feelings for one's own for the duration of the piece. Haven't you ever been kind of down and then felt much better after performing an uplifting piece of music well. This is how I know this substitution is real.
Rick Adams said:
To play devil's advocate, isn't that the point - the first group of musicians conveyed the emotion to you and second lot didn't. How can we know whether that's because they were genuinely feeing exactly what you thought they were feeling or whether they were actually being very good at conveying that emotion to you as the audience because they were being professionals?
Watch YoYo Ma play the unaccompanied Bach (probably for the bazillionth time) and tell me he is not feeling the music, but merely being professional. I can spot the "bobble heads" and phonies who are trying to make me think they are feeling the music a mile away. Certainly soloists, ensembles, combos, orchestras and bands have "flat" performances that are technically flawless, but lack the "excitement" and "electricity" of a "moving" and "inspired" performance. This is human nature. No one can be "on" 100% of the time, but I think that many of the great musicians have come close. Finding words to describe what I am trying to say is like defining pornography, I can't define it but I know when I (see) hear it. This is why recordings of live performances often have a sparkle and energy to them that recordings made in the sterile environment of a recording studio do not. The performers interacting with the response of the live audience really get into and feel the music to a greater degree.

The bottom line for me is this. If I don't become emotionally connected to the music I am performing, then what is the point of playing a musical instrument??????????????????
 

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I know I will take some flack on this, but it is how I feel, so here goes:

Expression in music does not come from the soul or the heart. It is practiced and planned for, just like right notes, rhythms, articulations, etc.

Unless I communicate with the composer face to face, I have no idea of what "he was feeling" when he wrote the music. Printed dynamics and expression marks are the guideposts for me to make those kind of expressive judgment calls in how to perform the music. When I do, I should hope that my performance might approach what the composer intended. Again, all of this expression I make during a performance is done at a cognitive level, not an emotional one.

To hear someone say, "Oh he feels the music in his soul or heart" makes my stomach hurt. I think it does a disservice to the musician who is truly an artist from the perspective of having to study all of nuance and subtely of expression and phrasing, the countless hours studying, taking lessons and yes practicing.

Now, can that artist BE passionate about being an artist? Yes! Can they feel they were born to play the blues? Certainly! Do I feel like Donald Rumsfeld asking and answering my own rhetorical questions?? Let's not go there.

Finally, I do think that people who have beautiful souls, and are kind, loving people have a better chance of pulling off a evocative performance. Conversely, cognitively seeking the beauty in a movement of a Beethoven Symphony (no. 7 is my favorite for those keeping score) considering the peak moments of climax in the second movement of the Creston Sonata can't help but make you a better person and enrich your soul. (and give you even more cognitive information on how you might shape a similar phrase next time!)

peace,

Steve
 

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Think about the great recording artists. The best saxophone recording techniques require that the player keep his horn basically stationary so that all of the different microphones can pick it up correctly. Joshua Redman moves around like a madman on stage. But in the recording hall he's perfectly stationary...

We're being duped! :razz:

Also think of flute players. They are notorious for moving around unnecessarily while they play. Wouldn't those same great players, stationary for recording purposes, sound just as great? Communicate as much power in their performances? Yes, because the moving around is theatrical afterthought and is not a necessary component to a convincing performance.

The grandest demonstration of "sincerity without theatrics" was a performance I saw recently of the Curtis symphony orchestra. I've seen the Philly orch several times but these kids quite frankly put them in their place with their performances of Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and The Rite of Spring. I was seated in the front row and could see most of the string section and a good deal of the woodwinds. What I saw was serious determination and concentration, not unnecessary emoting. They weren't robots and they weren't dancing like jesters; somewhere in between.

Edit: qwerty, good stuff. I couldn't agree more. Especially for anyone who knows a bit about the nature of emotions and how they are more a managing function of the brain than anything else...
 

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In order to translate the hearts desire into music we must use the intellect to tell the fingers what to do. Until we reach the ability to transcend the intellect when performing, we must use it as much as possible to control what we play.
 

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There has to be something "contrived" in a musical performance, in the sense that you'll either be in some way detached from your current emotions, or deliberately moulding them to suit what you're playing.

You don't get many greats saying, "My wife just had a baby, so the blues hits are off tonight," or "I'm thoroughly pissed off, so don't expect 'My Favorite Things'." At the same time the emotional impact of a performance can well vary according to how a good musician happens to be on the night, so it's a complex issue.

I knew a bloke as a student who sang a version of the lengthy trad ballad "Matty Groves" and always managed to be in tears by verse 26 or so. I'm not sure it made the performance any better - and in any case it was about the only thing he did so he didn't need a large emotional palette.

Thinking about myself I'm more inclined to monitor my performance by the emotion I'm getting from the audience rather than the emotion I brought with me.
 
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