Behind the Glamour: Practicing

If you go and see a performance of a symphony you are witnessing a highly polished product. Behind every show, there are hours of rehearsal for that ensemble. And behind that rehearsal there are hours upon hours of practice time for each individual musician. The practice is needed, but there  is a strange paradox to practicing. Musicians both love it and hate it simultaneously.

Why?

Firstly, let me vent about why we hate it (I just had a terrible fucking practice session and need this as therapy right now…)

Frustration

This kid is me right now…

  1. You are constantly worried about time. My schedule (as most music majors) is defined by the number of practice hours I need to achieve in a day. Being in music school, the recommended amount of study (as prescribed by my applied teacher) is 3 to 4 hours. This is on top of 3 to 5 hours of rehearsal, 3 hours of classes, and a part time job (not to mention homework and studying needed for classes). That is 12 hours of mandatory work on a good day. On a bad day I can run from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. with one 30 minute lunch break (which is usually when I’m writing blog posts) I guess I can sleep when I’m dead…
  2. It wears on you mentally. You are stuck in a box for the better part of a day. (I’m not kidding here’s a picture)… practice roomYou are isolated for most of that time while being harshly critical on yourself. You run the same warm-up, the same repertoire , the same passage over and over to get a small aspect right. This is a your life for at least 4 years in your undergraduate (and usually more if you were a serious high school musician or you go on to your graduate degree).
  3. It wears on you physically. Hours of repetition and lack of proper health education lead to many musicians developing physical injury. Although old fashion, many teachers still hold the opinion that more practice time is better. Due to this, many student musicians run themselves into an early retirement trying to rack up as many hours a day they can. (I’ve been on that train – 6 to 7 hours. Resulted in tendentious and jaw problems).
  4. You’re not making music. Sounds strange, and I’m sure there are some musicians who disagree with me, but practicing is not making music. Practicing is working on all the underlying technique that makes music possible. The hours spent in the practice room is meant for the musician to work on fingerings, buzzing, tonguing, bowing, tone, etc… Sometimes you work on ‘musical phrasing’, but this is a very artificial approach to music. It is a planning out of musical gestures, and rarely speaks to the heart of the music you want to produce.

    Frustrated

    Every musician after a bad practice session

Well that’s all very depressing. Let us end on a happier note… This is why musicians love practicing.

  1. It is time well spent.  Of course, it is a constant struggle trying to live a balanced life that does not revolve around the practice room, but it is possible. I have recently stepped back from my crazy, hectic schedule, and have reshuffled and cut down on somethings. That includes practice time. Instead of working longer, I try and work smarter. This not only cuts down on the practice time, but also makes my time with my instrument more productive. In addition, I know it is time well spent. I can hear the musical improvements on my instrument.
  2. It can build you up mentally. When you are being productive and using your time effectively, you being to build the much needed confidence that you need on your instrument. When you are not being stupidly critical of yourself, you learn to celebrate you victories in your craft. The feeling of elation that comes with your victories are almost orgasmic.

    dudamel

    Think Dudamel has the orgasm face down… That musical handjob just left him needing a cigarette.

  3. It makes you more aware physically. With proper care of your body, playing an instrument can make you keenly aware of what you are doing physically. Musicians are small muscle Olympians, depending on the instrument you are training your wrists, your lips, your fingers, etc. In addition, overall posture and breathing is (or should be) constantly checked and corrected. This training makes you surprisingly aware of overall physical health (it also makes you a little more graceful in your day to day life).
  4. It leads to better music. What you learn in the practice room acts as a foundation in a performance situation. Knowing your fundamentals are there, can help you be more courageous musically. It helps you be confident in revealing some of the deepest parts of your personality. And that in the end is what makes the hours in the practice room worth it.

As you can see, there are two sides to the practice room. And I’ll be honest, I have been back and forth on both the bad and the good. I’ve had days (and truthfully months) where I have questioned my goals and why I am even pursuing music because of the frustration that resulted from the practice room. On the flip-side, I have had days where I was almost euphoric – enjoying every second practicing. Although  I would love to be on that high all the time,  most days I fall in-between.  Having a continual love-hate relationship with the practice room and my instrument.

Behind the glamour of the stage is not always pretty, but I can’t think of anything in life that is always perfect. I love music that’s why I continue to put up with this side of the industry.  The rewards are worth it, adding to culture is worth it, and my own personal satisfaction is worth it; and I am so grateful I have found that thing in my life that makes me feel this way almost everyday.

Weirdly enough, committing yourself to any art is like a marriage. There is the good and the bad, but at the end of the day each partner (can music be a partner being kind-of an abstract concept?) contributes something good to one another. It’s not always pretty, it’s not always perfect, but it sure as hell is worth the struggle.

hugging instrument

After this post and my shitty practice session, I’m going to go hug my instrument and tell it that it I love them. Excuse me as I go have mental sex with an inanimate object….

Happy Listening,

Minimalist Musician

 

 

 

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Ancient Music: Greeks and Earlier

Are you ready to get this shit underway?

Unlike visual arts and literature, music of ancient times has not survived in its entirety. This maybe due to the lack of notation or the societal shift in the Middle Ages that shunned many innovations of classical antiquity – damn Roman Catholic Church always squashing the fun for everyone. However, scholars know that ancient people enjoyed the hell out of music through what remains of these ancient civilization’s visual art, written accounts, remains of instruments, and in the rare cases – musical compositions.

Ancient Music

One of the oldest pieces of musical evidence we have are 42,000-43,000 year old flutes that were found in a cave in Germany. If that shit doesn’t impress you… get off my page you uncultured swine. These flutes have five holes and are made out of animal bone or mammoth ivory, and are found in places consistent with human migration in Europe (makes sense right). I’m not going to take the time to explain the measurements and shit of these ancient instruments, but if you are so inclined to do so (*cough overachiever*) I suggest the BBC Article on this subject. As one with a brain could guess, there is not much information about what type of music would have been played on these instruments due to a lack of notation and writing – but hey give the people a break that made these, they were still out hunting, gathering, and just worried about spreading their genes.

oldest flute

Sumerian Music

Moving quite a bit forward in time… (cause I can do that) The earliest musical composition archaeologist have is a 3,400 year old Sumerian cult hymn – yes, not just the Christian church has been brainwashing people through music. The hymn was engraved on tablet in cuneiform, and the badass, Dr. Anne Kilmer, translated the composition into modern musical notation in the 1970’s. What is fucking remarkable about the piece, is the fact that is contains certain aspects of music (such as harmony) that early musicologist did not think ancient people added to their music.  There is a great article from Open Culture that has a few more links to listen to other people’s interpretation of the piece.

 

Grecian Music

Many of our early artifacts pertaining to music are found within the ancient Grecian culture. We know through writings and pieces of arts, that music held importance within Greek society. Plato in his ‘Republic’ often speaks of music in a very complex and lengthy manner (and he is often misquoted through simplified versions because people are fucking morons and don’t fact check – moral of the story CHECK YOUR SOURCES), but essentially discusses the powers that music holds with Greek politics and culture.

Musicians_from_Zliten_mosaic

In addition, we have the discovery of Pythagorean tuning and theory from the philosopher Pythagoras (Yes, the same dude that figured out a^2 +b^2 = c^2).  This tuning system has served as a fundamental model throughout most of the history of Western music. I will let this YouTuber explain what exactly it is and its impact (he is a bit spacey, but his information for the beginning 3-ish minutes of the video is an accurate description of Pythagorean theory).

 

In addition to visual arts and writings, we do have a few surviving fragments of Greek composition. Perhaps the most famous (and the coolest) is the Epitaph of Seikilos, found on a tombstone, it is the earliest complete musical compositions that we have available dating back to 1 C.E.  Story goes… the composition was written for a dead person’s wife. The End. But for real though the lyrics are pretty beautiful.

While you live, shine

have no grief at all

life exists only for a short while

and time demands its toll.

These lyrics would have been sung in a simple melody probably accompanied by an instrument; such as, the lyre or the cithara. Below is one of the most exquisite recordings I have found with voice and lyre. (If this recording doesn’t bring a tear to your eye you just don’t like puppies.)

 

In a short blog post I can not do the entirety of ancient music justice (Don’t bitch, we’re all human), and it is a damn shame more of this music was not preserved. But never think that the lack of preservation of an art makes it any less important. The beauty of this music still rings through the human soul into the present day.  Being able to appreciate the simplicity of the Sumerian hymn to the love in the Song of Seikilos brings us, the listener, closer to the millennia of the human experience.

Perhaps the best conclusion to this post is the excitement of Hank Green in recreating the Song of Seikilos… It also sums everything up pretty well if you zone out halfway through the article – you pussy.

 

Sources – because I fact check bitches:

Open Culture – Oldest Complete Song

Open Culture – Sumerian Hymn

BBC – Earliest Music Instruments

New York Times – Oldest Musical Instruments

Oxford History of Western Music (This is where the real, good, academic stuff is at – it’s also the book that tortures all Music Majors for years in their Undergrad. I read it so you don’t have too)

Notes from University Lecture (If you really want them I can send them to you)

Happy Listening Bitches,

Minimalist Musician

 

 

Barriers of Classical Music

My Dear Readers,

There is a strange mystique that surrounds classical music. The stuffy etiquette, the incompressible music, the mysterious musicians – the list goes on. I am here to lift the veil on this world, and add a little understanding about the music that has shaped culture, politics, and society in the Western World since the Middle Ages.

Over the next few years, I will be discussing the history of western classical music, the repertoire heard at the concerts, and the day to day life of a musician. Hopefully you will share in this journey with me, and I can provide some sorely needed insight into this world that causes so much confusion.

I am of the belief that all types of music should be enjoyed by everyone. This sentiment is not shared by all my colleagues, and often classical musicians shun the amateur musician, the beginning listener, and the curious as ‘unworthy’.  The trained musician and the well-learned patron regularly treat classical music (and recently jazz) as an exclusive group not to be penetrated by any layman.

Tory-toffs

THIS IS LUDICROUS!

Music is music is music – whether it be classical, jazz, hiphop, etc. You have the right to learn and listen to any genre without the fear of being belittled or criticized.

I hope this blog can fill the void that has been in classical music education for decades. This blog is for you – the reader. If you have questions never be fearful to ask via email, Tumblr, and the comments below.

The whole wide world of classical music is waiting for you.

stage

Radio City Stage

Happy Listening,

Minimalist Musician