I had a colleague at conservatory who used to practice many hours a day, repeating passages over and over in slow tempo supposedly in pursuit of perfection. This very talented instrumentalist worked intensively to innervate the motions contained in the passages in order to be able to get through the pieces he was working on at the moment. The result: poor playing and not being able to play at all the other pieces he was not working on at the moment. This colleague would put off playing the entire recital out of fear of making mistakes. It became a vicious circle of innervating motions unrelated to the real music, which of course did not work in performance. He could not perform fluently and with expression because the innervation would disappear….Of course, a low level recital ensued after excessive stress, despite the great talent.
I too would practice many hours concentrating on my idea of technique.Then the week before juries I would try to add in the musical expression. But the pieces balked at me. They could not longer accommodate expression, because the motions necessary for expression, what really happens in an expressive performance had little to do with I had practiced…. I had left out my musical imagination, and the artistic impulse that animates powerful, expressive performances… What I did not realize was that real technique comes from the right apportioning of many elements, and not from senseless repetition. It must of necessity include expression. I was only able to grasp this concept after shedding misconceptions and hours of detrimental practice, and then only after a lot of thinking, reading, research and experimentation.
In the case of singing, as Thomas Helmsley puts it” the manner of singing must always be appropriate to the thoughts and feelings expressed in the text”. As is often the case with instrumentalists, some singers neglect to include the artistic element. Helmsley continues:
“Too often this is forgotten by singers, at least until the last moment of their preparatory work, when they attempt to add text, feeling, and expression, after long periods devoted to mechanical vocalizing, divorced from the imagination” Thomas Hemlsley, Singing and the Imagination
Practice must- from the start- approximate actual performance. Regular run-throughs should be scheduled. How can one hope to perform in an inspired manner in public without trying alone at first? One must play with abandon, as if improvising the piece at hand. And there is no possible control but that derived from the musical impulse. The great pedagogue Abby Whiteside set out to investigate the Indispensables of Piano Technique and came to the conclusion that the impetus in performance had to come from what she called the basic rhythm. It is this basic rhythm– as opposed to the note- by-note procedure- that animates the truly musical performance.
(And in addition, there must be an element of decision, an impetus from Aries that makes us separate from the primordial soup. It is the impetus that affirms and gives birth to the artist with a message, fully-grown, as Venus).
Over-practicing and concentrating on “pure technique” produces the lifeless note by note procedure (within which there can be no phrasing and no music) and its attending result: glorified practicing on stage that pretends to pass as a performance. Enclosed within himself, the performer is simply practicing on stage, oblivious to the music and to the audience. At times, the performer may not even be aware of it. She has never practiced performing!!!! She has never actually communicated the music!!!! He may not even have much of a clue as to the message!!! …What message, she may ask???
There is yet another important point to consider. The body and the singing apparatus do not feel the same way in a studio when the performer is practicing in a detached way (as is unfortunately sometimes the case in vocal or instrumental lessons when teachers and students concentrate mostly on so-called “technique” ) as during performance, when the performer is in a state of singular arousal. If we are to become true artist-performers, we must include the music from the start. We must cover many steps in this direction, by playing (really playing or singing artistically) entire sections, then movements and entire pieces, later entire recitals; by recording and then engaging fearlessly with our performances; and by playing for family and friends- or even enemies?… Concentrating purely on technique at the detriment of the music, is a travesty, a gross disservice to the music.
Let’s avoid that mistake!