Saturday, February 9, 2008

Dame Evelyn Glennie

Today famed percussion soloist Evelyn Glennie gave a master class at Wake Forest University here in Winston-Salem. Four people performed, with ages from high school through college. There were a few things that were recurring thoughts that she had with each person and I feel that I might not have noticed some points of her overall philosophy of music and performing had I not been taking notes. She mentioned a few times about how we need to listen to our body when we perform. Really our body is a part of the instrument so we should always be aware of what the body is doing and how it is interacting with all the instruments we play as percussionists. I also got the feeling that she really thinks orchestrally even when performing a solo piece. She mentioned several times to think about how a trumpet or some other instrument would play this section. One thing I really liked about the master class was the impression I got about how she must really experiment with all the different ways to create sound on a percussion instrument. Like playing on the deadest part of the marimba bar (the node) and then playing near the center to create a different timbre. I think that's not something that many percussionists (or at least students) think about very often. One of the great benefits of the master class was to see how a soloist approaches music. It kind of makes me think of the cellist Pablo Casals. It was said of him that he would break any kind of tradition if he felt that the music called for it. It's all about the music.

Most of my notes are approximations of what she actually said today, however I was able to write one exact quote that I thought was very illuminating. She said "Don't be afraid of silence. It's really a heavy sound, a present sound." I don't know that she purposefully said silence was a sound but I get the feeling that she does think of it that way. The composer John Cage wrote about silence and said there really is no silence. He was able to go into a completely sound-proof room at some point only to find out that the silence wasn't absolute. He could hear the blood rushing through his veins. There is no such thing as a true silence. As I perform I do try to remember the importance of silence but actually thinking of it as a sound is quite a different thought altogether!

Tonight Tonya and I went to see her perform with the Winston-Salem Symphony. What a great performance! I was a little disappointed in the Schoenberg performance, though. It seemed at times that they simply hadn't rehearsed it enough because some parts weren't as clean as they could have been and the emotion also seemed to be lacking somewhat. But they definitely made up for it in the concerto! As accompanists to Ms. Glennie they were great. And she was just wonderful! I had heard the Schwantner in concert at least once before but it did not impress me. What I remember most was the performer seemed to have so many instruments that in order to play them all he could only play them at short spurts. It didn't do much for me because there wasn't enough time to appreciate any one thing he was doing. I don't know how much Ms. Glennie (or Schwantner) might have changed the soloist's part since then but the performance tonight was magnificent. Tonya and I have talked about creating a more theatrical atmosphere with lighting and Ms. Glennie used that tonight which I think really added to the whole experience. Hopefully this is where classical music is going. To me it definitely makes it more exciting. If you ever have the opportunity to see Evelyn Glennie perform, do it!



Blogger Stew said...

Ah master classes. I actually miss those.

I like what you said Glennie said about thinking about how a different instrument would play a certain passage. It sounds like the point here is that you should approach the piece with different perspectives. If your passage is a string of accented eighth notes, how would you play that with a mallet? How would a trumpet player approach the same notes and how would your sound change if you approached those notes the way a trumpet would. It is a change of perspective.

Silence definitely is a sound. Think of it this way... we use sound to move people in some way. That's the whole purpose of our profession. Think about a piece where a composer has written a dramatic theme and when it just about reaches the climax, there's a group pause. There's this building building building and at the peak, silence! Everybody holds their breath, no move, no sound, then boom... the climax. It is a very real phenomenon and to ignore the silence right before the piece when the conductor picks up his baton, or right after the last note, or anytime, is to ignore a part of the music.

That's my take.

February 10, 2008 10:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been looking all over for this!


January 2, 2010 7:57 PM  

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