Thank you for giving your generous attention in the first outing of the season.
I have decided to gather the material from the first session to get us all up to speed before we go on to the next one,
First, I introduced the various players:
Elisabeth Christensen (Miss Christensen) Managing Director of the BPO. Guiding spirit of the BPYO since its founding 8 years ago.
Mark Churchill (Mr. Churchill) Former Dean of the NEC Prep School (30 years), cellist, conductor, and a visionary in the field of music education. Senior Advisor.
Alfonso Piacentini (pronounced in the Italian way), my musical assistant. A Masters conducting student at Boston Conservatory. Who has put this whole document together.
Amanda Grohowski, my Executive Assistant (always to be included when communicating with me, especially if there is a request – ag@benjaminzander)
Greta Myatieva, violin graduate of NEC, a long-time member of BPO and BPYO, Personnel Manager.
I included the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton in my letter to help you leap over and stretch beyond the difficulties that we are facing in this venture. The moral of the Shackleton story is that OPTIMISM IS THE TRUE MORAL COURAGE and he in fact attributed the very survival of his 29-member crew to the practice of Optimism. It is an essential quality for conductors.
My ideal orchestra is one consisting entirely of conductors, each taking responsibility for the whole. By taking on the role of the conductor you will grow as musicians and as human beings. So our exploration will be part musical and part spiritual – to engender the attitude, the passion and energy, which are the characteristics of all effective maestros – conductors and teachers and actually all musicians too. I look to you to help create a community with common tasks and a common philosophy, which makes this possible. That is a reason to keep the BPYO going, even though the sound of the orchestra is temporarily silenced.
Our book The Art of Possibility will serve as a kind of manual for this course. You will all receive a chapter every fortnight. Each of these chapters has a practice. Read it early on and apply the practice over the two weeks. You will have an opportunity to share insights with each other in break out room sessions via Zoom.
Possibility is an Art and needs to be practiced just like a musical instrument. The very idea of all 70+ of us living and expressing the Art of Possibility out in the world is extremely inspiring to me and gives a sense of purpose to the year.
The Mission of the BPYO, after all, is Shaping Future Leaders through Music. That is who you are!
POSSIBILITY IN THE DRIVEWAY
I told about the concert that took place in my driveway last Friday night. It was the 14th concert that has taken place this summer in the series we have called SAFE and SOUND – Live-in-the-Drive. Mathew Dunn-Vera, Velleda Miragias (both BPYO coaches and BPO members) and Jason Fisher from A Far Cry, played the whole Goldberg variations! Here is a very short video (54 seconds) showing the audience of around 200 that gathered to listen. (The lady in the wheelchair is 104 years old and has been at almost every concert).
I had asked Jason if he would be willing to come to us at one Saturday sessions to talk about playing in a conductor-less orchestra. He wrote to me this morning:
Thank you for the opportunity to present the Goldbergs in such a beautiful setting, for such an appreciative and large audience! Not to mention your willingness to put your own life on the (center) line to slow down traffic/noise!!!
I hope we will have the opportunity to record those Goldbergs in the near future that they might be presented online to your class. I’d also be very happy to engage with your class on the subject of performing without a conductor, of co-artistic ownership, the modern-day musician as entrepreneur, etc.
(I had found an effective way of reducing the sound of traffic – I stood in the middle of the road – the cars responded accordingly!). And here is a post-card that came through my letterbox this morning:
Thank you so much for hosting the Goldberg Variations in your driveway. It was wonderful to hear beautiful music and be surrounded by music lovers. That cars sometimes passed by and mixed their sounds with the sounds of the music only added to the poignancy of the moment. I don’t think Bach would have minded.
This series has been a constant reminder of how much people (players and audience alike) feel the need for live music.
Earlier in the summer a neighbor dropped a letter in my mailbox after a concert. It is a reminder of what an impact live music can have:
…Friday, I was on my bicycle, escaping from a day, a week, of zoom and gloom meetings. As I started down Brattle Street I saw the chairs arranged in the drive, and the quartet playing, I turned and stopped.
I cannot begin to tell you how beautiful and moving it was to listen to the music… It was like going from a gloomy fetid room in which the plants were all hanging, all wilted and sad and going to a room of sunlight and fresh air and burgeoning plants and flowers.
Your concert was that. And more. As I listened to the music -so elegant and refined and beautiful- I felt awakened feelings that had seemed lost. Even those who were speaking out powerfully and eloquently and movingly about the need for social justice, spoke in voices of pain and anger. And so many sympathetic voices were often well meaning, but empty at best, self-serving, at worst.
But the music was none of those things. Its purity and perfection simply were the best of the human experience. It took us outside politics, morality, struggle, time itself. I left in tears. I tried to ride off, but I had to stop and cry.
Thank you Neighbor.
I wonder if any of you might be inspired to go out while there is still good weather and play for people, in a driveway or anywhere. You will make a lot of people happy as well as yourselves.
We would love to hear about it.
That’s how possibility works!
I told about my father’s experience in the Internment Camp during the Second World War, where he, as a German Jewish refugee, was imprisoned with 2,000 other men on the Isle of Mann. Not allowing himself to be dragged down by the general gloom and fear, he and a few friends started a university in that camp, with 46 classes running each week – without any books, chalk or paper: Just men talking to each other.
That is a beautiful story of Possibility!
ON THE BACK COVER OF THE YELLOW BOOK it says:
In the Face of Difficulties we can choose: DESPAIR… ANGER… OR POSSIBILITY
THE NATURE OF THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL IS THAT IT IS DUALISTIC. LIKE A HAND IT HAS A FRONT AND A BACK.
– EVERYTHING IS MEASURED AND COMPARED
MOST OF THE CONCERNS IN THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL HAVE TO DO WITH ACCUMULATING
THE EMOTIONS THAT ACCOMPANY THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL ARE:
– A SENSE OF TRIUMPH Hello is this
POSSIBILITY IS A COMPREHENSIVE AND OPEN WORLD. THERE IS NO BACK OF THE HAND. ALL HUMAN EMOTIONS ARE ENCOMPASSED WITHIN POSSIBILITY.
DESPAIR, GRIEF AND ANGER ARE ALL HONORED EMOTIONS IN POSSIBILITY
– WE ARE OPEN TO BEING MOVED
– WE FIND JOY AND A SENSE OF BELONGING
– A FEELING OF CONNECTION
– GRATITUDE AND TEARS OF COMPASSION ABOUND AND ALSO WONDER
– GRACE IN RELATIONSHIPS
– REVERENCE, RELEASE AND SKIPPING ARE ALL EXPERIENCES OF POSSIBILITY.
– A VISION IS IN THE REALM OF POSSIBILITY AS ARE ART, MUSIC AND STORYTELLING.
– A FEELING OF CONNECTION AND AN EXPERIENCE OF BEING PART OF NATURE.
IN POSSIBILITY WE EXPERIENCE THE CLARITY AND STRENGTH FROM DOING WHAT WE SAY WE WILL DO.
PEOPLE IN POSSIBILITY HAVE SHINING EYES.
In my driveway on Friday there were 200 pairs of shining eyes.
Bach can do that!
If you are about to stand up in front of an orchestra to conduct, would you want to stand in The Downward Spiral or Possibility?
WALK WITH SPIRIT AND LOVE
NOTICE THE CONTRIBUTION YOU ARE
Evan Tsai (Bass), a senior at Phillips Andover, played the Gigue from the third cello suite of Bach to much brilliant virtual applause.
Children are taught to sing ROW, ROW ROW YOUR BOAT GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM bobbing their head on each note: see video
or MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB: see video
This video has been viewed 249 million times (can any classical composition compete?
…Ooops that’s The Down Spiral speaking)
That is also the way little children learn to read:
Often with their head bobbing up and down on each word.
That is an appropriate way for a very young child to learn to read or sing.
UNFORTUNATELY, THAT IS ALSO THE WAY THEY ARE TRAINED TO PLAY THE PIANO: see video
(MAKE IT CONTINUE FOR 4 MORE BARS)
Even more unfortunately they often go on playing or singing that way when they are grownups. e.g. Hymns sung in church or any Christmas Carol sung on a cold winter evening…
HERE ARE 10,000 PEOPLE SINGING BEETHOVEN’S ODE TO JOY (WATCH THE HEADS!): see video
In my TED Talk I do a demonstration of a 7-year-old, an 8-year-old a 9-year-old and a 10-year-old playing a phrase from Mozart Piano Sonata in C Major K.545, reducing the number of impulses as the child gets older. Unfortunately, children often give up learning music before they get to the final stage – the 11-year-old – in which they can finally release the impulses and launch the phrase over many bars.
We call that ONE BUTTOCK PLAYING (see Yo-Yo Ma).
How do we get there?
The human psyche seems to naturally think in terms of heavy (/) and light (u) beats. Even the rigid discipline of the American Military allows soldiers to slightly lighten the second “syllable” as they march.
LEFT… LEFT… LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT.
THIS NOT TRUE FOR THE NORTH KOREAN MILITARY WHICH IS ALL DOWNBEATS: see video
But even our language (at least the Germanic, Hungarian, and Anglo languages) is based on heavy/light.
In a four-beat bar, the first beat is heavy, the second is light, the third is heavy, but lighter than the first and the 4th beat is light.
There is no disagreement amongst musicians throughout the world about that fact.
That’s the way everybody conducts 4/4:
1 is down
2 is to the left (in)
3 is to the right (out)
4 is up
Now take the Beethoven Ode to Joy and put an impulse on every other note, instead of every note.
Then play (or sing) it slightly faster putting the an impulse on every bar.
Then play it again and put an impulse on every other bar, i.e. with a weak “beat” on the intervening bars.
AT MM = 80 to the 1/2 note you can feel one major impulse on the first bar and conduct the phrase as if it was written in 4, treating each bar as a beat.
MM = 80 is Beethoven’s tempo for the Ode to Joy, which suggests that he was thinking of each bar as a beat in a 4 bar phrase.
Proof that he did is found in the Scherzo of the 9th symphony, where each bar is experienced as a beat in a 4 bar phrase, until the beginning of the Development (bar 177) where he writes “Ritmo di tre battute” which means that the bars are now heard in 3 beats instead of 4.
This explains Beethoven’s fast tempi. If we reduce the impulses, and think in large phrases, suddenly they seem perfect. But that’s a discussion for a later session.
Now play the opening of Mozart’s C major Sonata K545 treating each bar as a beat in a 4 bar phrase.
Play it 4 times, each time changing the bar structure.
NB. You can create an impulse either by sound or by timing i.e. playing the first note a little louder or by lengthening it (which is called an agogic accent)
Play it so that each version sounds beautiful and convincing.
Then get a friend to take your 4 versions down in dictation, writing the traditional heavy light signs that we use for poetry stresses / u / u
If you are not able to do it convincingly on the keyboard, do it on your own instrument or singing. Make a physical gesture with your body to suggest the shape, then you are conducting.
This is meant to test how convincing you can be in your interpretation, so that your listener is clear which are the heavy beats and which the lighter ones. Your listener does not need to be a musician – a mother or sibling will do fine.
While all these versions are beautiful, and ANY shape is better than none, is there one that is “correct”?
The answer is: YES.
Everyone agrees the first beat of a four beat bar is heavy, the second light, the third heavy, but lighter than the first and the fourth light.
THE SAME IS TRUE OF A 4 BAR PHRASE.
This is the underlying principle of phrasing throughout the classical and romantic eras.
IN OTHER WORDS, BARS ARE BEATS IN LARGER PHRASES.
Now play the Mozart again putting the impulses where Mozart would have assumed they would go i.e.Heavy light, Heavy light.
That does NOT mean that every 4 bar phrase is to be performed the same way!
What it means is that that structure underlies every phrase, just as it is true in every 4 beat bar, but there are many ways in which a composer can threaten, complicate or create tension or surprise in a four bar phrase without upsetting the heavy light structure.
In the Mozart the third bar (heavy, but not as heavy as bar 1) has the highest note (A) of the phrase. That does not change its role in the four bar structure, but it will invite a slightly different phrasing – some sensitivity to its ambiguous role as both lighter than the first “beat” in the phrase and the highest note.
That might be done with timing, color or weight. Each artist will decide.
All of this might be familiar to some of you, but I am sure that it will be new to some. We will go on with this next Saturday. Meanwhile notice the 4 bar phrases (and the heavy and light beats) in the music you are playing.
On Saturday we will talk about Beethoven’s 5th Symphony’s first movement and many other fascinating musical examples.
There are many ways in which a composer can create tension or ambiguity, by undermining the basic structure of the phrase without changing it.
A RISING LINE: Think about the first 4 bars of the Finale of Beethoven 5th. The entry of the trombones after 150 years!
REPEATED NOTES: Always want to lead. Is it always the composer’s intention?
GOING TO A LONG NOTE: Think Happy Birthday. How much do you love the person you are celebrating?
DYNAMICS: a surprise dynamic doesn’t change the bar structure – see Judas Maccabeus in Beethoven’s version.
A DISSONANCE: Brahms e minor cello sonata opening
We will be looking at all these next Saturday but start thinking about the phrases you are playing.
Ben Maxwell performed the First Bourée from the 3rd Cello Suite of Bach.
He began by giving a bit too much impulse on every bar, which prevented it from dancing.
I asked him, if he were to reduce the impulses in order to give the music more buoyancy, would he treat the first or the second bar as heavy?
He understandably replied that he thought the second was the heavy one. It is natural that he did so, because of the highest note (B), the big chord and the added trill on the first beat of the second bar.
However, following the principle of Heavy/Light, it would be the first bar that should get the main impulse. This, of course, doesn’t make the second bar softer – on the contrary it has to have all the intensity, vitality and energy that it would have in a performance where it was treated as the heavy bar, but it would get its impulse from the first bar – launched so effectively with the upbeat.
What is then revealed to the listener is the underlying structure of EFG… DEF… E.
That is what I call the Schenker Principle, which I will tell you more about later, and which was the most exciting thing I discovered when I came to America.
His final rendition observing all the rhythmic intricacies and ambiguities in Bach’s masterpiece had exactly the required buoyancy and élan of a baroque dance.
The class ended with a sparkling rendition of the flute solo from Mendelssohn’s Scherzo from Midsummer Night’s Dream performed by Grace Helmke (the wonderful first flute in last year’s performance of Sinfonie Fantastique and 2nd year student of Linda Toote at BU).
Just before the class began I got an email from Carol Wincenc in New York with her take on the tempo issue:
“Since there is quite a range of preferences, I always tell my students never, ever faster than 80! 79 even better (to appease those who want a religious 72 and those who want a religious 84)!!!”
We’ll have to get Prof. Wincenc to join us one of these days to discuss this further.
Play one or more of the little Mozart pieces that he wrote when he was 6 years old and apply the principle of 4 bar phrases. If you can’t play the piano, or don’t have access to a keyboard, play with another instrument. In any case conduct the pieces convincingly. (Click here to view).
Remember that sequences take precedence over the 4 bar structure. So in even the most musically sophisticated rendition of Row, Row Row your boat you would want to emphasize the evenness of the first three Row Row Row’s, because it’s a sequence. Then you can enjoy the extremely merry phrasing of: Merrily Merrily Merrily Merrily (also a sequence) while launching the final phrase: “Life is but a dream” with a beautiful emphasis on the “Life” and falling away in a weak bar to the “dream”.
Thank you for having the patience to read through all of this.
I can’t wait for next week.
P.S. Take a look at Beethoven’s rendition of the theme from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus and be prepared to be surprised on Saturday.
View all the Rehearsal Recaps in the BPYO during COVID Collection.