Thursday, November 26, 2020

Items of need

I remember sitting in the audience at a recital by the Juilliard String Quartet. It was our first week as freshmen at the Eastman School of Music. Our class was full of superstar wannabes chomping at the bit. It felt like the opening gate at the Kentucky Derby! My self-imposed assignment that night was to observe and to note the skills needed to be a successful musician.

We all brought strengths to the table but also lots of baggage and abilities needing serious attention. How we were going to deal with our deficiencies in four years was key. 

The Quartet was amazing! Each player displayed enormous energy, showmanship, expression, dynamic contrasts, overall drama, and a sense of mature musicianship. But also, the often ignored skills of impeccable intonation, fantastic rhythm, blending, supporting, leading, and overall control. 

That night I came away with a long list of "items of need." High on my list was: control of each entrance, intonation that doesn't cause wincing, technical wizardry, and accuracy.  Further unpleasant realities: sloppiness, often out of tune, unsteady, unreliable, boring at times, insensitive, and in spite of that, an egotistical attitude! ESM faculty had a lot of work to do!

And so, although perfection is not possible, neither is the lack of diligent effort. The best students practice not what they want, but what they need. The sooner we learn to deal with our weak areas the faster we will improve and be approved. A one trick trumpet player will not go far. Fundamentals must be secure in order to build star quality playing. Take inventory regularly. Listen constantly to the best in the business. Study how they do what you can't, just yet. The fun is in this kind of pursuit.