Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Practiced, but not rehearsed

Last night, I had one of those vivid dreams of a piece of — non-existent — music to which some musicians are prone. In this case, it involved a large group of instrumentalists and vocalists gradually gathering in a circle before the audience, playing isolated sounds and then fragments of tunes that eventually come together and start spinning, literally, around the circle, until the motion stops in a gigantic, pulsing, chord, mostly in a single harmonic spectum, but with very gentle nudges from tones outside that spectrum.

Sometimes dreams are very useful sources of music, from bits of material to longer stretches, and sometimes, even the broad shapes of larger forms. But mosttimes, it is probably better to enjoy the music in the dream and leave it there. In this case, the problem is the "spontaneity" of the piece I imagined, which had more than a utopian flavor. With even the best of ensembles today, it would be next to impossible to recreate this, to get this right. It would have to be well-rehearsed, and nothing can kill a performance of music, ridding it of its spontaneity, than the ritual of a performance that continually advertises the fact that it is well-rehearsed. (If you want to irritate me, you don't need to drag fingernails across blackboards; you just have to shout out "Hey, kids, let's put on a show!" That is a recipe for — to take a term from Peter Brook — "deadly theatre").

Let me be clear that I'm all in favor of practice, indeed, I demand practice. But, for me, practice is a different form of preparation from rehearsal. Rehearsal is oriented towards a specific goal, it is about getting something into a particular, polished, indeed finished form, while practice is an ever-closer engagement with work so that individual performances can improve, but more importantly, the individual musician or group of musicians is evermore aware of the richness of possibilities in a work, thus allowing and embracing the differences within and between each performance.

I'm not really a piano player, but I play at the piano every day. When I sat down, this morning, to read through my favorite Mozart Sonata (K. 533/594), to practice it, my expectation was not about my lousy technique. It was this: What am I going to learn new today? Will I be able to hear more, hear differently? And, to date, my expectations have always been met.


Anonymous said...

If I want it to sound rehearsed, I buy a recording.

Paul H. Muller said...

My dreams are less useful but just as vivid; its the night of the big concert, we are all in our places - and I can't find my music.