Friday, November 14, 2014

The Process of Recomposition - How to interpret composers, findmeaning, and insert yourself into the music

It's not easy playing other people's music.  If you are not a composer yourself and you have been trained in the current concert or "classical" instrumental music education environment, you may not have been trained thoroughly in the building blocks of music.  This is unfortunate but it is a reality and a sort of hangover from the 20th century that still exists today.

Additionally, you may not feel a connection to the music personally.  This may come from a number of factors including not actually knowing the composer personally or understanding their fundamental lingual approach (which again is related to whether or not you are versed in the building blocks of music).

We must examine this topic properly to illuminate much of what ails instrumental music performance today.  Once we do that we can then put a new process in place that performers can use to "get inside" of the music that they seek to convey.

We have to move backwards to understand how to move forward.  The first thing to recognize here is that there are two basic schools of thought.  The old adage in classical instrumental performance is to try and "discover" what the composer wants and simply emulate it.  The other way of thinking is that music is an interpretive adventure and you can do whatever you want.  The truth is somewhere not necessarily in between but somewhere else entirely.

First, it is literally impossible not to put yourself into something you play.  The very act of trying not to put oneself into something is a personality trait so therefore you are putting yourself (and your well meaning yet misguided rigidity) into the piece.

So if you understand that there will always be a piece of yourself in what you play than you will have a much better chance of truly interpreting music because your starting point will be one of collaboration rather than repetition.

The key is learning how to discover the meaning and lingual techniques the composer is going for. If you can discover those things you can then begin to insert yourself into the music and craft your own ideas around them.  You won't necessarily be trying to change them but rather, you will be trying to align the meaning of the music with your own feelings so you can then bring yourself into the music while retaining the character you are playing.  This is a similar process to that of an actor.  It's important to have the right character, lines, and meaning.  However, how those parts of yourself manifest themselves is a very personal and unique process indigenous and subjective to that of the performer.

What is recomposition?

I first heard this word used during an American Symphony Orchestra rehearsal.  Our conductor Leon Botstein was using it to discuss a work we were rehearsing.  I've also heard conducting students use it to describe the art form of conducting an orchestra and reconstructing a masterwork.  Recomposition can also simply mean from the composer's perspective "reworking a piece of music."  I will be dealing with the process as I see it from the performer's perspective.  We don't often associate a word like "recomposition" with the job of the performer but that is exactly the goal of this article.

As I pointed out above there are many ways to describe recomposition but I will attempt to define it through the performer's eyes.  Recomposition is the process of endeavoring to "recompose" a piece of music through it's performance.  In other words, rather than simply interpreting the music as a performer who is an entirely separate entity from the music itself, you will now perceive your process as one of reconstruction where you are recreating it for the listener.  By going through this process and aligning yourself with the musical ideas you will absorb the music with a much greater amount of depth and emotional understanding.  This will ultimately allow for true freedom of expression and transparent communication in your performing.  Recomposition requires that the performer conjure the music from within whether or not they created it in the first place.  It takes a tremendous amount of work, dedication, and effort but the freedom found within truly changes performances.  It brings them to life!

Returning to the title of this article one then asks how does recomposition help interpretation?   Why do it at all?  The answer lies first in examining the fallacy of repetition as a method of music making.

Repetition vs. Recomposition

All too often students are wrapped up in what they perceive to be "the rules" of performance.  This is none other than the fault of the academic establishment and the old recording industry.  By elevating a small group of composers throughout music history and replaying their master works like a broken record, they have convinced students that they themselves must be a part of the replaying.  I suggest that these students as performers should be a part of the recomposition.  That is to say they should align themselves with the ideas that make the music what is it and then apply themselves to the process of performing.  

Repetition is a noble endeavor but it leads to music without feeling.  The act of simply trying to determine the composer's intention when performing a piece of music is only a small piece of the puzzle.  Music is about communication.  It is symbiotic "life on life."  Without "you" in the picture the music is dead.  Additionally, repitition without recomposition has created a whole generation of performers with little to no understanding of why they play music in the first place.  If music is reduced to a series of rules and regulations than it ceases to be music.  If a musician approaches music in this way than they cease to be musicians.

Recomposition - how to do it

The process of recomposition may be unfamiliar to many aspiring performing artists.  I hope to begin to define the process here.

1) Become fluent in the composer's language. 

Dissect the music you are playing to the point where you know the composer's language so well that it's almost as if it's your own language.  This takes a lot of work.  Composer's have spent their entire lives acquiring their own melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic language.  As a performer, your job must be similar whether you write music or not.  It is a different way of thinking from aspects of the current system which encourages performers to separate themselves from this essential process.  

This is why the process of recomposition is so rigorous and rewarding.  The performer must almost become a composer themselves in striving to truly aquire the composer's lingual tools. Recomposition requires the performer to develop their skills of musical language and recognition to that of a composer.  

2) Seek to put yourself in the mind of the composer like an actor playing a character

The performer must attempt to enter a deep meditative like state in which they will become one with the expression and character of the music.  In this stage, the performer must not simply interpret but see through the eyes and hear through the ears of the composer.  Only when this is acheived can the next step be taken.  

3) Build a metaphorical bridge between yourself and the music.  Find emotional areas where you connect and apply. 

This is again similar to the process of an actor.  An actor learns to cry on stage by associating parts of their life when they felt the same way with the scene they are acting out.  They are then able to cry in what appears to the audience to be "on cue."  Actors spend years learning to associate real life experiences and feelings with scenes.  As a musician practicing recomposition, you must do the same.  You must search yourself to find connections throughout the music you are making. You will then truly be able to effectively communicate and channel the music through your playing.  It is a deep and reflective process that results in clarity and honesty.  However, it only works if you've thoroughly processed steps one and two first.  

4) Visualize and remove all traditional technical barriers

It goes without saying yet in the interest of thoroughness it must be mentioned.  If you do not have the order of things firmly in place in your mind than you cannot achieve true recomposition. Visualization and mental preparation are the most helpful tools used to achieve this in order to prevent memory lapses and other basic issues.  I also suggest that you review my articles "Accidental vs. Intentional Phrasing" and "Creating Lines of Music on Mallet Keyboard Instruments."  These will serve as further supplements to insure that you are listening correctly and doing things in the correct order.  Recomposition requires much more technical proficiency than traditional playing.  You must use every tool at your disposal.  

Recomposition is the true 21st century performing artist's process.  It is no longer acceptable to simply try and reproduce music perfectly.  This nearly ruined music in the 20th century. Recomposition serves to further the artform and insure that performers are one with the music they are playing.  This leads to absolute communication and an experience audiences can relate to.  It is something that is absolutely imperative in our modern 21st century world.  

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