31 January 2008

Feeling the Music

I'd like to take a moment away from my cynical and honest side to detour. Something more pleasant and quite beautiful is in order.

I've been a flute player for nearly 12 years now and have enjoyed nearly every minute of it. I am not a music major and have no interest in making music into a profession. I do it as a profound respite into a magical world where bodies sway and emotions flow freely. I am quite fortunate to have won the spot as principal flute here in the Butler Symphony Orchestra and I have taken a lot of recent enjoyment in working more on my playing. I have been reflecting on my brief past in music and it is a pleasing thing.

I have always been a good flute player and I was quite serious in high school, although I ultimately decided not to major. My flute slipped for a few years as I focused on anthropology and other aspects of my life. But I have been working harder of late and have brought myself up to a familiar level. Ultimately, though, I think my success has little or nothing to do with practice time, inherent skill, perfection or even devotion. Instead I owe it all to feeling the music.

Our conductor makes many detours from the music during rehearsal time, but a common theme he speaks to is feeling in music. He asks us to move with emotional parts and inject an energy into our playing. The reality is that we can only physically control the speed and amount of air going into our instruments. Regardless, we can alter the sound and overall feeling of a piece of music by feeling the music. Without changing tempo or volume we can add great energy to a passage. Without slowing or stretching, or even adding vibrato we can make a theme tear at the heartstrings of the audience. This ability is what separates good and great musicians.

I decided not to go into flute performance because I knew that that future would entail a great deal of regimenting of and professionalizing music, breaking down music into often times frivolous categories. I thought this would kill music for me. And, to be honest, a lot of musical terminology is lost on me. Nonetheless I can be successful because I connect with symphonies passages and sounds. This is the beauty of music, it is something that comes from within, something that also embeds itself deep in your mind making certain passages unforgettable. It is something that can change feeling with mere thought and mind-driven expression. It is something that creates goose-bumps on my skin at truly wondrous moments.

We are playing Schumann's 1st Symphony in B Flat and the final movement is a exciting allegretto that wraps this symphony up in that magical way that can only be achieved by these grandiose pieces of music. We often rehearse this movement last and I am often stuck with parts of it in my head for the rest of the day. I have not been able to articulate what I wanted to as well as I normally do, but this perhaps does it best. The tempo for that last movement is roughly equivalent to the tempo of my walking stride. For this reason, walking away from rehearsal I often feel the music in each step, my body rising and falling and my mind swirling with chords and attacks and beautiful themes. Its enough to bring a grin to my face for no obvious reason. I am truly feeling the music, it is something that pleases me, something that works its way into my being, something that never leaves me.

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