Saturday, November 29, 2008

Communal Music Making

The idea of making music together has come up several times on here in recent weeks. I had several experiences over the break that reminded me of the conversation, so I thought I'd pass them along.

Several siblings/friends of my two roommates were staying with us for thanksgiving. The six of us were hanging out after eating breakfast together thanksgiving morning, and my roommate, Katie asked me if I would play something on the keyboard we have in our living room. I played some Beethoven and Schubert (definitely not quite the same on a keyboard, no matter how nice it is, but that's another post all together). Katie and her siblings all took piano lessons as kids, but are by no means professional musicians. In spite of that, they all ended up playing for the group.

As cheesy as it sounds, it made me feel kind of warm and fuzzy inside to play and listen in a setting where no one really cared how badly you messed up. The point was just to play and listen and share the music we knew.

But at the same time, I found it impossible to shut off my inner critic. As Katie's brother played, I couldn't help thinking a constant stream of critiques: "Voice that chord to the top... crescendo more there... the sixteenth notes are a little muddy here..."

I can see how, as music has become a more specialized field and recordings become more widespread, amateur performances in the home would also decrease. Why bother listening to an amateur play live when you can listen to a recording of the same piece by the likes of Rubenstein or Horowitz? And really, it must take a very confident amateur to play knowing that those of us with more musical training will most likely find ourselves unable to keep from analyzing the smallest details of the performance.

I think to a certain extent, we as musicians are shooting ourselves in the foot with our high standards. There's certainly a time and place for pushing ourselves as close to perfection as we can, but I know that I, for one, tend to allow that quest to stop me from sharing music with others and from devaluing the contributions of so-called "non-musicians." There's more to music-making than technical, and even musical perfection.

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