[Trombone-l] Practice for what?

publisher@briarmusic.com publisher at briarmusic.com
Fri May 23 12:09:21 CDT 2008

Roger Harvey wrote:

> As I contribute to the current practice thread it worries me that we  
> become so involved with technical matters of playing an instrument  
> that we forget why we are doing it in the first place. Many players,  
> I know, just love playing their instrument. For most, I hope, it is  
> more than that - it's our way of being involved in the hugely  
> stimulating activity of corporate music-making.

One of the limitations of this discussion list is that there is no  
sound. The famous Zappa quote comes to mind: "Writing about music is  
like dancing about architecture." Focusing on technical aspects is a  
pitfall into which we all fall, both in discussion of music and in  
actual playing and performance.

> I sometimes wonder why some people continue to play as they seem not  
> to be interested in music and occasionally even dislike it. I'm not  
> talking about a lack of involvement with a particular piece or  
> composer but a more general disinterest in music as a whole.

We live at a time when many musical styles exist simultaneously, even  
though some of the more arcane historical styles are practiced by a  
small cadre of devotees. In a wider context, the range of options for  
entertainment has expanded immensely in the last couple decades (at  
least). So rather that having the equivalent of a two-course meal, we  
now eat at the buffet -- and the buffet has everything one could  
image. Immersion in one or two musical genres is no longer in vogue,  
and it takes its toll, obviously, on the skills developed by jacks of  
all trades.

> I compiled a quiz of 10 substantial extracts, mainly from the core  
> repertoire (Mastersinger Overture, Schubert 9, Mahler 3 etc) with a  
> couple of more difficult items (Berg Violin Concert, Elgar  
> Introduction and Allegro, Monteverdi Vespers). The extracts were  
> substantial and typical of the composers - mostly openings - this  
> was not meant to be tricky. 1 point per composer and 1 point per  
> piece - max 20. 1 student got 13, all others were below, and some  
> well below, half marks.

When I was in music school, nothing made grad students quake and shake  
in fear more than drop-the-needle tests at the end of a degree  
program. And those had published lists of what the excerpts would be!  
The paradox is we are often too liberal and broad in our musical  
education and tastes yet do not learn enough to identify core  
repertoire from a variety of genres. I spent a great deal of time  
learning the German symphonic literature, but I also listened to vocal  
music, string quartets, piano sonatas, etc. My coverage is not  
comprehensive -- there is simply too much literature for that -- but I  
would not be uncomfortable with a listening test outside of my  
principal focus. (Of course, I would fail completely with rock and  
popular music.)

> Neither of these events prove anything but it does support my theory  
> that, even in the leading colleges, many students take far too  
> little interest in the music that will be their daily diet should  
> they succeed in reaching their goal of becoming a professional  
> orchestral player. I have to ask, why spend so much time in the  
> formative years of your life attempting to perfect a skill that has  
> no point unless you have a strong interest in and love of music?

For some, music is a career path but not a calling. I have known lots  
of musicians who were good at it and drawn to the profession because  
of that but who lack real interest in it. They don't listen for  
pleasure or attend concerts when they're not playing. Those types  
become either musical laborers (if they make it professionally) or  
they abandon music entirely for something else (if the fail  
professionally). Then there are some who love performing music but who  
lack skill or education. Acute awareness of their failings interferes  
with enjoyment, so they may deny that there are any deficiencies. (And  
those deficiencies do not always interfere with audience enjoyment,  
either. Go figure.)

All this is to say that there are lots of ways to be musical, and not  
all of them require slavish devotion to the art or a high level of  
accomplishment. For those who always struggle to achieve the highest  
professional standards, that can be the source of considerable  
frustration. But who wants to deny amateurs and semipros their  

Robert Holland
Briar Music Press
publisher at briarmusic.com

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