Thursday, December 13, 2007

Our Forgotten Weapon

Not that this weapon is totally forgotten, but it is often neglected and not fully developed. Every profession is defined by certain necessary skills and abilities. Athletes must be athletic. Mathematicians must figure. Pilots fly. Bowlers roll. Managers manage. Politicians must know how to be vague, etc. So what about musicians that are hard of hearing? Very strange.

Take trumpeters. What do we do? Blow, finger, play high, play loud, play soft (if we must), play fast, play slow (if we must), blow, and blow some more. We take a breather, and then do it all over again. No wonder they stick us in the rear of the orchestra! We must do something to break out of our penalty box. We need more than the above to be competitive. It's a long way from the back of the stage to the solo spot up front. And it's a long way from the marching band to the recording studio. What's missing? That something is the skill of listening. Granted, a certain level of talent goes a long way.

We think of those obvious skills that identify trumpet players: confidence in those aggressive dominating passages; fearlessly blasting those fiery jolts of decibels right by the defenseless string players; and spraying the air full of rapid-fire triplet pellets over the heads of greatly annoyed woodwind players! Ah, the sheer joy of it!

But alas, necessary as all of that is, (after all, it is when we do our thing and do it well, that the audience realizes why they came) - yet those are not enough to do effective battle on the stage. Our secret weapon is sensitive listening. Like high rising antennas, it monitors all neighboring activity. Listening controls decibel levels. It governs balance. It adjusts intonation. It is tuned in to sound quality. Like sight, it operates peripherally. It makes us alert to rhythm, without which, good ensemble is guesswork. And it lets us focus during practice by allowing us to accurately copy the good, eliminate the bad and the ugly.

Discerning ears will enable us to greatly strengthen our other weapons. Without good hearing skills, we are hampered and hamstrung. Listening is our silent weapon, but when it is developed and utilized regularly, it is heard by all.

1 comment:

valuearts said...

Hi Phil,
I'm a former student of yours. Cindy Bennett. Still playing and teaching. You were a tremendous musical influence to me. Thank you!