Nov 052011

Today I ran across this blog post on about a violin student’s tears when facing the challenge of playing Bach. I’m an appalachian fiddler, not a classical violinist, but I can relate to a few points here.

Point #1: don’t count on linear progression in your efforts to improve. The writer describes how a piece can make intonation and other technical issues come to the fore. I see this with my Appalachian music buddies. We’ll take a simple tune and try it out, and it seems ready to go within a few tries. then after playing it at gigs for a while, suddenly the tune seems to lose its groove, and we have to really practice hard on it to tighten it up. Now you have it, and suddenly you lost it and struggle to find it again.

I see this in my private practice on the fiddle. I’ll work on tone exercises for a few months, and suddenly my timing seems off. I work on timing, and my intonation slips. then I work on intonation, and circle around and around. Music is like other parts of life: You keep learning the same lessons over and over.

Point #2: Don’t assume that your subjective experience of playing a piece corresponds exactly to the objective experience of hearing it. In the Bach blog post, the student feels like she is losing ground while the teacher hears progress. I see this dispute between subjective and objective in myself and in other musicians fairly regularly. “did that sound OK?” “I didn’t play very well.” “You sounded great. Why do you act like you didn’t play so well?”

It helps to give less than one hundred percent credence to your subjective experience of playing. Listen to the subjective, but then ask others for their input and feedback to balance things out.

Point #3: Perfection? What is that? I appreciate the idea of holding oneself to very high standards. but perfection means playing in tune, playing in exact rhythm, all the technical and mechanical parts of music. What about emotion and personality? What about smiling at the audience, or playing with sadness, or vulnerability? for my appalachian fiddle music, it’s about making people tap their feet and getting up to dance. If I skip a few notes but have a strong pulse and drive, that’s a successful performance.

Jul 082011

Shannon Dyer is a vocalist who has performed across classical, sacred, folk, and musical theater genres. She has won vocal competitions, served as a church canter, and has performed professionally with chamber ensembles in New York City. I interviewed her about her experiences and vocal technique.

SM: Describe your background, training, and career

My background is highly classical. From the time I was eleven, I was trained classically. One of my majors in college was vocal performance with an emphasis in classical.

However I don’t really like a lot of the classical vocal pieces. They’re definitely challenging and useful for expanding range and making sure diction is good. I’ve taken the classical technique as much as it can be used to sing different genres of music. I sing a mixture of pop, folk,, and musical theater. I tend to shy away from fully classical performances. I did perform full-time for nine months with a full ensemble in New York City. That’s where we got into a lot of the German opera and Italian arias. There were things I really enjoyed about that, but it also taught me that I wouldn’t do well as a full-time classical musician. I prefer different genres of music.

SM: One of the things I noticed when I accompanied you once was the connection between your technical command of the voice and the emotional response of the audience.

I’ve been taught that there is a lot to be accomplished by knowing the technical art of singing. But I’ve also been taught that there is an equal important to channeling your emotions into your singing without losing the technical stuff. It’s an interesting mix–how do I sing this in a way that portrays a certain emotion? People that sing just by emotion tend to lose pitch a lot of times. Sometimes they’re voices will sound strange with cracking and sliding around. You can only sing that way for so long before you’re going to have vocal issues, and I think your overall performance will suffer.
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