Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Canvas Work. Good or Bad?

Here's an analogy some may like.
Imagine you are a painter wishing to capture beauty with your brush strokes.  You might begin by placing a clean canvas onto your easel and preparing samples of the colors you wish to use.

What if that canvas is dirty?
What if you spill some blue into your white paint?

Your inspiration may be powerful but, if your basic materials are flawed, your final creation won't reflect your vision.

Think about this lick from the Mozart Requiem...
   Can we make an argument that, before we get into the nuances of this (or similar) passage we have to demonstrate the basic control over the instrument to simply be able to play it very clean and accurate, not favoring any particular note?  

   Turning the notes of an excerpt into a kind of exercise 
might be called "canvas work."  

   In other words, building the technical ability to play these notes very accurately and evenly is similar to preparing a canvas and your paints so that you can then begin to create.  It takes discipline to realize your inspiration.

Or maybe I'm wrong....

Maybe the nuance and subtlety have to be there from the very beginning.

Consider these two examples:

Example 1:
You start by making it very solid, technically and then add in musical expression.
Example 2:
You start by making it very expressive, musically and then clean up the technical details.

Or maybe even that isn't correct because it assumes a binary simplicity.  Anyway, this is a subject I've thought about before (in blog form).
Here's a 2010 post, along similar lines.
Here's a 2011 post, also similar.


Will Timmons said...

Good point... all three years that you've posted about it. I tend to think that it's all inclusive. There's 1) your skill as a trombonist/musician and 2) the piece you are playing.

Your skill as a performer gradually gets cultivated over many, many years of practicing and performing. (This is the artist, painting landscapes many, many times over his/her life) Gradually the fundamentals get more complete through repetition and artistic exercises, and the detail of the painting becomes more vivid, or more clear. Whether or not the painting is meant to be realism is a totally different comparison. But, none the less, the painting gains more depth and clarity to the meaning of it. It's not just shapes or colors or subjects anymore. There is feeling... flow... composition... depth... proportion... thought. All of these things take time to cultivate.

Then we can look at the excerpt/piece. This would be the landscape that one would paint. Over the years, it may change slightly and it would depend on what season you painted the landscape during... but for the most part, it's the same shapes, sizes... everything. But then you can choose to paint it any number of ways. You can paint it how you perceive it at the moment or perhaps you paint it as you would LIKE to see it, or in any number of different styles. (This would be akin to playing the requiem excerpt in a jazzy style. It works quite well in a different idiom in my mind.)

So it comes down to skill and excerpt/piece being separate, but linked closely together. For if your skill is in the jazz idiom, it could prove quite hard to play it as orchestral audition committees perceive that it should be played. It's all about perception in the end.

I apologize if anything was incoherent about what I said... I ramble.

Gabe Langfur said...

I like to take the notes of an excerpt and use them as a technical exercise, but I change something about it so that I'm not playing the excerpt as a technical exercise. It's a subtle but significant difference. For example, when I practice William Tell I like to play it at about half tempo, and I like to take one note out of each group of 4 and play it much longer. Then, the next time through I make a different note from each 4 longer, etc.

I especially like to do routines like this in the warm-up room before an audition, so that I'm practicing the audition material but not in a way that involves any self-judgement.

Brad Edwards said...

Interesting ideas guys, thanks.

Will Timmons said...

And here's a quote from a popular song these days... "The greats weren't great because at birth they could paint. The greats were great because they paint a lot."

Who knew it could be so relevant to thee analogy.