I had the most interesting conversations with a few of my students after my first recital performance last weekend. One thanked me for exposing her to so many interesting new pieces that she had never heard before. One admitted unabashedly that his favorites were the familiar ones, the ones he already knew from his previous listening. And both of these observations rang true to me.
See, I LOVE learning new music. I really enjoy digging into a piece and breaking through an unfamiliar harmonic language to get to the depths of it. To discover the composer’s intention, and to find the universal emotion or experience at the heart of the work, and then to communicate that meaning back out to an audience. This challenge is fun for me, and I think I do it well.
I have to be fair, though. By the time I have put that kind of work into a new piece, it’s not new to me anymore. By the time I get it to the recital stage, it’s an old friend. I find great pleasure in performing it for people, sharing it with them, and showing them what I’ve learned about the way in.
In all honesty, I’m not so good, myself, at the CONSUMPTION of new music. I’m already a fidgety listener to classical music, because I’d always rather be DOING it than hearing it. And I have to admit that when I AM in a concert I love hearing what I know. I can relax into it, I can compare what I’m hearing to my previous experiences of the piece – really, I just don’t have to WORK as hard, and it’s enjoyable in that way.
In other words, I prefer to play new music because I get bored with the familiar stuff, but I prefer to listen to pieces I already know. So I sympathize with those listeners who resist the new.
This is my Year of Love and Generosity, so I am filtering everything I do through that lens. How does my new understanding translate to Generosity in performance?
Certainly, by learning and performing new works, or at least new-to-me works, I am presenting living composers to new audiences. I am giving life to pieces that might otherwise be rarely played. I am offering audiences the chance to discover works they did not know, and hopefully will love. There’s an element of Generosity there.
At the same time, though, am I being selfish in expecting people to sit through 6 pieces – over an hour of music – with only one or two familiar tunes? Am I asking too much?
I only prepare one or two full recitals each year. Why should I waste any time playing music off the Group One IMEA list? Or music I have already explored in depth, or taught? Why should I do a work that doesn’t spark joy in me? As a professional musician, I play a LOT of concerts that I did not program or have any say in. These recitals are mine, to do what I love and to share it with those I hope will love it too. I hope that there’s a Generosity in that – in curating something I find wonderful and offering it outward.
And that’s where I am leaving this musing today. It’s been so long since I published on this blog. I’ve been working hard in other ways, but I’ve felt blocked in my writing for a while, and inadequate. I don’t think this post is better than the pieces I’ve thrown out, I just think I need to put something out so the next one doesn’t feel even more monumental.
Thank you for reading. I love you all.
Want to check out my performances?
“Something Borrowed, Something Blue” is an eclectic program of my current favorites – some old and some new, some that SHOULD have been written for the oboe and some that were, beautifully. Works by Thea Musgrave, Claude Debussy, Benjamin Britten, Jeffrey Agrell, Karl Pilss, and J.S. Bach. Free and open to the public! Donations gratefully accepted.
February 17, 3:00 CST, First Presbyterian Church, Michigan City IN
February 26, 7:00 EST, Church of the Savior CRC, 1855 N Hickory, South Bend IN