Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Matter of Conscience

"Intonation is a matter of conscience." So said Pablo Casals, the great cellist. This seems at first an unlikely connection, linking the conscience to the refining of musical skills. His point was that unpolished playing is not so much a technical matter as it is first a character issue. It is diligence and integrity on display, or the lack thereof.

Could it not also be applied to a performer's control, accuracy, dynamic range, alertness to ensemble, quality of sound, or whatever is required? We have come to tolerate and even expect too many imperfections as normal. We allow second-rate playing in the practice room, and yet we expect ravishing displays of artistry on the stage. Odds are it won't happen, and odds are you won't have fun. Learning to use one's conscience as a guide in perfecting the musical product just might bring a fresh new approach to our practicing. We realize that sloppy playing is more a reflection of our character than it is an indication of a lack of talent or ability.


Our flawed performance tells us that we were too forgiving in our preparation, not taking the demands of the music seriously enough, and not being honest with ourselves. We are used to thinking: "That part is too hard, this section never goes right anyway, and it's just a bad note on the horn." We listen to our own excuses, and therefore guarantee inconsistency when it counts.


Listening to our conscience begins by slowly breaking down the music and carefully rehearsing the required techniques so as to guarantee the highest degree of accuracy. For every one mistake, ten right responses are needed to erase the failure from our minds. We practice so that the odds will be greatly in our favor.

Our musical conscience screams at us that notes, phrases, intonation, etc. need our attention. Turning a deaf ear in the practice room results in our becoming blind to our weaknesses. So when under the pressure of performance, we rely upon our preparation, such as it wasn't. And we wonder why the concert went poorly.


Apply honesty to your trumpet practice. Listen to and obey your conscience. Remember, you only have so many notes. Don't ignore them.

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