Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Figure Skating and You

As I look back on players I've known (on all instruments) I seem to have run across a sort of duality. Maybe you can call it a musical "two-party" system.

Party A: very expressive but not super consistent
Party B: very consistent but not super expressive

As players we must all work to maintain that foundation of good sound but always strive make our music compelling as well.

In some lessons I grill students about ...
  • accuracy of the slide in runs
  • starting the note with an immediate solid tone
  • steady time and accurate subdivisions
As I watch them focus on these things, I often see the phrasing go out the window.

In other lessons, I am more focused on...
  • clear arrival points in the phrase
  • compelling dynamic contrasts
  • more connection in long phrases
As I watch them focus on *these* things, you guessed it, some of those technical consistency things go out the window.

Anybody who's read this blog for a while knows that I often draw parallels with the world of sports. I especially like the Olympics.

Take figure skating for example. I'm largely ignorant on the sport so, when I watch, I can only get a rudimentary sense of how the routine is flowing. Are they wobbly? Did he drop her?..etc.

You know, the obvious stuff. The commentators are often talking about the expressive qualities of their skating and how there is (or isn't) so much joy in what they do. I can sort of see this.

Yet I have a sense of the long grueling hours of repetition, the stretching, the weight-lifting to arrive at that point of apparent spontaneous joy.

Below, watch a beautiful performance of Ferro's Daybreak performed by Joe Alessi. I've used this many times in lessons to point out such things as relaxed posture, great slide technique and solid embouchure.

And yet, I doubt he was consciously thinking of those things at that moment. He had built that solid foundation so that the music could flow forth.

Just like those spectacular lifts in figure skating where the one partner must provide a solid foundation for the artistic radiance of the other.

Of course it's all about balance...(in more ways than one!)


Gabe Langfur said...

I was inspired by snowboarder Shaun White at the 2010 Winter Olympics, and what I took notice of was the first half-pipe run - the one in which he did the same "safe" moves as everybody else, but did them with so much more relaxation and economy of motion than everybody else that he won the gold medal without even needing the second run, the one where he did his Super McTwist 1260 (or whatever it was called).

I can't seem to find the video of that first run, but you can see a lot of that quality in this video: http://www.shaunwhite.com/videos/2008/12/shaun_whites_qualifying_run/

I get the same inspiration watching Joe, and take away exactly the same lessons: that when you boil down and refine the technique such that every bit of energy and effort you make goes into the tone production, you are set free to make incredible music.

We all have to get there by our own roads, however, and for many of us, clear musical conceptions give our technical study focus and motivation. Integration...

Brad Edwards said...

Technique supports phrasing.
Phrasing builds technique.

Kinda' like a double helix.