Monday, August 13, 2007

On Playing in a Group that Isn't So Good

For me it’s simply playing my best. I don’t attempt to play the group’s best. Believe it or not, that’s an easy thing for us to do sometimes. (Now if the group is better than I am, I definitely work at playing their best!) Playing less than one’s best really drags a person down, and can lead to some very bad habits. So I attempt to play my best.

Taken from oboeinsight. Read the full article there.

My sentiments exactly. Having played in amateur school ensembles a couple of times, I realised that playing at a lower level, especially for long periods of time, often desensitises me. Especially when it comes to simple mistakes which are more commonly made, resulting in everyone having to repeat the same passages ad nauseam. It certainly takes more effort, in fact much more effort, to brace oneself and play at his or her best, in the midst of the the less blessed musicians around. And note the way Patricia put it - "So I attempt to play my best", with the reiteration of that difficulty at the end of her article...

On the other hand, playing in a superior chamber group, ensemble or orchestra will catapult one higher musically, if the musician has some pride in his or her music that is.

So you see the contrast? Ideally, I'm sure one would choose to be in the latter scenario, but alas, that isn't the case all the time, due to financial, obligatory or other reasons...

I see such instances whereby one is engaged to play in a still-maturing group as a mirror of his or her values as a musician. Most, sad to say, often fall short of the level they usually perform at in those cases. If they have a perfectionist streak in them naturally, it somehow just doesn't seem to show up in those practices. The right way to resolve this isn't to reject engagements by such groups, as what most would do, but in fact to reflect on one's values as a musician, followed by accepting such engagements as far as one's schedule would allow. Playing in such groups might not make one improve musically or technically, but it does mould the musician spiritually and mentally, if he or she goes for practices with the right perspective.

I guess it's time for me to evaluate my values as a musician too...


nat* said...

Darn, I was just going to blog about it and you beat me to it. Really good post she had there.

Funny isn't it, that there are so many amateur groups, so few semi-professional groups, but practically none that's about the standard you're playing at?

Quoting from your post, "Playing in such groups might not make one improve musically or technically, but it does mould the musician spiritually and mentally, if he or she goes for practices with the right perspective."

How so? It's a physically draining process just sitting through a rehearsal having repeat certain bars ad nauseam until it laps into brainless typewriter playing. Especially for wind-players where embouchure is concerned. Besides building up the endurance (and perhaps patience), how does it mould one spiritually and mentally?

solitudex said...

You've identified them yourself, Nat. Isn't building endurance in the midst of mundane routine a mental training and patience a spiritual exercise?

On top of that, remember our creed as a musician. Intentional or not, playing down at a lower level is tempting and in fact easy, if one is careless. It takes a matured musician to be able to still see the value of every note he or she plays and play them in the best possible way, in the midst of weaker musicians.

IVAN LIM said...

Playing your best - is there any other way? It's all about integrity, yes?

Do or do not, there is no "try" or "attempt".

I'd do that as a soloist or within a group. Anything less than one's best often results in a wishy-washy abomination!

However, whether your contribution raises the standard of music or musicianship within the group is a completely different matter.

I tend to look at the conductor, or band leader.

He is, for me, God.

If he doesn't do anything for me or the group, I'd replace him or worship somewhere else. But leave quietly. It does no good to incur the wrath of god, no matter how small she may be.

Music is an explosion of freedom, of expression.

Never be caught in a tragic situation, or unhappy marriage, when it comes to music.

If you want to discipline yourself, do push-ups.

solitudex said...

So aptly put, Ivan. I wish I could say the same, but in the midst of attending regular practices with not-so-good groups in schools and outside weekly for some period of time, I find my principle of 'playing my best' being worn away gradually. How subtly and maliciously the devil works! I have to admit that this was an underlying reason I was pulling out of my engagements. I need a break to find my direction again, before I find myself mentally, spiritually and musically fit to play in such groups again...

How relieved to hear that you look at the conductor! A glimmer of hope in the ensemble! Guitarists in general, I observe, seem to have a problem of acquiring the precious orchestral skill of reading the score and looking at the conductor at the same time, not to mention about being sensitive to the conductor's gestures.

I sense a hint of some sexism there - "no matter how small she may be". It must have been a typographical error?

IVAN LIM said...

typo? no, dude. I've always thought God was female.

nat* said...

Hmm. Regarding the problem of looking at the conductor, I guess that has to be trained right from the start. But I do admit, it can be difficult to listen to your section to blend in, sight-read the music, look at your hand position/instrument, listen to the soloist (if accompanying) and most importantly, look at the conductor!

God being female? How interesting ;)

hautzeng said...

for me, i was think of it as there being two major factors involving the direction of any ensemble. One, being education, and the other, performance. at the highest, most professional levels, the conductor's job is aimed at the music, and the musicians are expected to be capable of expressing anything conveyed by the conductor. at the lower levels, little children for example, the conductor focuses further than the music and performances, and considers the overall musical growth of the budding musicians probably higher than their ability to sing that next piece of work. for those in between, the balance then depends on the music director. if the individual playing in the ensemble has a different focus or is at a standard above the ensemble's that the music director has to attend to, then he/she probably should evaluate his reasons for staying. if it is, like u said, to mold him/herself spiritually or mentally, then maybe it is a good motivation to stay. so maybe u r trying to find the balance between jeff the performer, and jeff the teacher? i don't know. all the best for everything though.