“The kiss of death for your career is when you turn up and say: ‘Oh, I don’t do that.'”
In an interesting article in the WSJ forwarded to me by Jimmy Mac, we have a brief exploration of the rediscovery of improvisation by some classical musicians.
This article has some relevance for church musicians. Over the years, I’ve always asked instrumentalists (and a singer or two) if they were able to improvise. Usual answer: no. But the unusual answer of “yes” often makes for some real playing.
This would be a good topic for any discussion among church musicians. You know I’d be in the camp of pro-improvisation. It’s a frequent occurrence wanting to stretch out a piece of music in a worship setting. It involves “play” which is how we mostly describe our interaction with creating music. Improvisation is an essential tool for any church musician of any style or instrument.
The WSJ article is more concerned with music for classical performance:
In a way, this, too, is a return to the origins of concert music, when composers like Bach, Mozart and Chopin wrote, played and improvised their own music. The separate profession of the performer is a result of the 19th-century emergence of a middle class that fostered a greater demand for live music while at the same time canonizing the masters of the past. Eventually, performers stopped writing — let alone improvising — their own cadenzas in concertos, while some composers began to write music for instruments of which they had little practical understanding. Improvisation, meanwhile, became intellectually suspect.
But this reveals a certain cultural bias in itself. Music as performance is a relatively recent phenomenon. Before audio technology, enjoying music was something that resulted from learning it yourself and playing it for your family and friends.
Locking music into a certain elevation of the past? That was never the experience of concertgoers in the 1700’s and before. It makes me wonder if the pre-conciliar chant movement was partly an offshoot of this mentality, and more of an attempt to recover a past for its own sake, rather than an authentic exploration of what suits worship.
Nadia Sirota, violist and Manhattan School of Music faculty member(who had the quote at the top, too):
“And as for us classical musicians, let’s be honest: We all secretly want to be rock stars.”