Musings on Music
I am musing this morning on how music fits in with the rest of life. I have not blogged in a good long while, though not because I was ignoring music...
For the last year in particular, I have been focused on reading music- reading more quickly, with better accuracy, reading ahead so I don't fall behind. But why do that? Why is reading music important? I think it depends on the circumstance.
In a choir setting, it is important for everyone to be together in the music, and to remember all the notes the choir director has given. In that setting, having the music in hand is imperitive: it contains all the original markings plus any additional notes from the director. There is a large quantity of music required, way too much to momorize. Plus, it is important to read the music while keeping an eye on said director for direction, keeping in time, sing louder, quieter, tricky entrances, etc.
For performers, it is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it is nice to have sheet music for the repetoire, because then it is possible to play a wider variety of songs. If one can read well, having the music at hand reduces the stress of having to keep it all in one's head and in order. On the other hand, if one is only looking at the music and the strings, that really reduces the chance to connect with the audience.
One possible solution is to consider how the music is used. Pianists can look at only the music, and as far as I know, that is the standard for playing piano. Keep your eyes on the notes. Not so for harpists, but there have been blind harpists. So... it is feasible to play the harp without looking at the strings. But it is not easy, and I think it would involve a lot of work on muscle memory- otherwise one would end up playing a lot of wrong notes. There is another train of thought that says look at the strings, don't look at the music at all. Memorize the music and use your eyes to guide your fingers by looking ahead at the next strings to pluck (Carolyn Deal has great tutorials on this). But I wonder about a potential hybrid. Have the music mostly memorized, but have it at hand for reference, look at the music when necessary and look at the strings when necessary. Christy-Lynn gave me some good advice on this, suggesting that I could even mark in the music the places I need to look at the strings. And if the music is mostly memorized, then glancing at it is really just refreshing a memory and not reading from scratch, which is also easier and less stressful. And frees up time to look at, and connect with, the people you are playing for.
For music therapists and music thanatologists, there is a very different dynamic. Connecting with the recipient is more important than playing a tune. Medical musicians can work with improv and exercises to create a sound environment. They can work with a small repetoire that can be varied and altered and put together in differing ways to meet the needs of the person receiving the music. I am not an expert at all, but as far as I understand a therapist uses music to engage a person, draw them out to interact, and help them feel more energized and/or focused. On the other hand, a thanatologist helps the person relax, become less stressed, experience less pain, and disconnect from the world around them for a gentler transition.
My own music practice has been just that- practice. I have played for my family, but not taken that step to find a wider audience to share with- or even to figure out who that audience would be. There is only so much time in the day, and only so much energy. My long term goal has been to get back into volunteering with the church choir (as soon as my youngest could handle being separated from Mommy at church), but maybe this time with my instrument. In that case, continuing the work on reading sheet music is a good idea, especially the hybrid version, which would make it easier to follow the choir director.
Practice would also be well augmented with education. My wish list has long included ear training and music theory classes, and I have looked into music therapy programs several times over the years. Wouldn't it be nice if education were not so expensive? But I am glad that there are options- like online recorded harp lessons. I can watch those over and over as much as I want. So I come to the end of musings feeling that perhaps I am not off course after all. Forward, march!