“I realized that my job is to awaken possibility in others.”


Bach: Cello Suite no. 3 - Courante and Bourrée I

Interpretation Class
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Gerald Karni (viola)

“We wise human beings have set up life as a measurement. But, life is not a measurement. Life is a dance.”

— Benjamin Zander

Video Transcript

Ben Zander: Yeah, it’s the same, right? It’s the same. Yeah. It’s the same. Great. So look, were you 13 when you walked into my living room? About 13 years old. Okay. Well, this is great. The two things I remember about you. You were tremendously excited about music, so excited that you actually said you wanted to be a conductor and I went to the piano and you were. Can you remember?

Gerald Karni: Yeah.

Ben Zander: And the other thing was that your playing wasn’t very good.

Gerald Karni: Okay.

Ben Zander: So now what’s happened is your playing has got fantastically good. And it’s brilliant. And you’ve lost your joy and your excitement and that 13-year-old sense of excitement that you brought into my room. I remember it clearly. I mean, this kid came in and he was wild open. I mean, he wanted to conduct. And now you’ve become brothers stayed and that’s appropriate for your age.

Ben Zander: But now you have two paths diverge in a wood. And you could go into, you’re clearly going to be a professional musician and a very successful one. I have no doubt about that. But you could become one of those professional musicians who just does a good job, solid, reliable, professional, predictable, or you could reengage with that childlike quality that you used to have and become a real artist. And that’s the question. And I think I know which one you want to do because otherwise, you wouldn’t be here.

Ben Zander: So now question is, how do we bring that back? One of the things you’ve got to do is to trust your playing. We sit in a practice room for an hour after, hour after, hour after hour like fools and anybody coming from Mars and watching human beings draw horsehair over the gut, say, “What are they doing?” Why, why? Well, the answer is to learn to play so that you can bring this music alive. That’s the only reason.

Ben Zander: So you have to practice. But it’s not about practicing and is not about getting the first chair position, and it’s not about winning the competition as you know. This guy played Sancho Panza in a performance on tour with us, with the youth orchestra. It was spectacular. He was Sancho Panza with all the humor and all of that.

Ben Zander: So bring that to this. Same thing alive. So the first piece is courante. What does that mean?

Gerald Karni: Dance?

Ben Zander: No. Yeah, it’s a dance, but what does courante mean?

Gerald Karni: Going forward?

Ben Zander: Well, running is what it means. So how come you play so slow? It’s a fast piece. It’s to show. (Singing). Try that.

Ben Zander: Come over here so that we can be a little bit in communication. Yeah.

Gerald Karni: (playing).

Ben Zander: Yeah. You look miserable and you’re playing so beautifully. All right, here we go. Three Okay.

Gerald Karni: (playing).

Ben Zander: Yeah. That’s great. This is jazz actually. You know Bach invented jazz. Do you know that? He did. He invented jazz. Beethoven invented rock and roll. Bach invented jazz because all these cross-rhythms are just that. And he even slurs it that way.

Ben Zander: Now we are actors. We are musicians, actors. So you may be feeling miserable. You may have a cold, you may be jet-lagged, you may wish you weren’t here. But for these people, you’ve got to pretend you’re having a wonderful time. So look, and remember, Bach had 22 older, had 20 children. I mean, what kind of a person do you to be to have 20 children? And most of them are musicians, imagine. Imagine living in that household. Oh my God. And he wrote music all the time. All the time. Every week he produced huge amounts of music and it was just easy for him. Easy, no difficulty.

Gerald Karni: (playing).

Ben Zander: Yes. Now, if you play that well, make the repeat. If you don’t play that well, go on. Sometimes I go to a concert and I’m sitting there saying, “Oh, I hope they don’t make the repeat. I hope they don’t make the repeat.” And sometimes it’s sitting there. “I hope they make the repeat.” So it depends on how you play, but that was great. And people were actually smiling more than you were. They were doing great. That’s it go on. And find more jazz here. Yeah. Sing that.

Gerald Karni: (playing)

Ben Zander: You see, you see? (singing). Have you heard the Swingle Singers? Has anybody heard the Swingle Singers? Who’s had the Swingle Singers? Swingle Singers were a group of singers who suddenly realized that Bach was writing jazz. And so they rewrote his music in jazz. And it’s great.

Ben Zander: So this is going back to the original rhythmic intensity. Here we go. (singing).

Because we haven’t had a D we’ve had a C. Yes. You see this gentleman came from Vermont. He doesn’t know anything about music. And he went “Yes,” like that. Okay. Here.

Gerald Karni: (playing)

Ben Zander: I hope he makes a repeat.

Gerald Karni: (playing).

Ben Zander: Our job is very simple. These two guys get up in Vermont. Then we got to drive to Boston. This woman, South Africa got to go to Boston. Well, she has a son here. That’s an additional thing. But when they get up in the morning and say, “I got to drive to Boston, I got to drive to Boston. It’s a long way, all that gas.” And then they arrive and they hear you play. And then they look like that. That’s why we do what we do. To change people’s lives. If you’re not changing somebody’s life, you are wasting your time. Isn’t amazing? Great. That was beautiful. Notice the playing is even better now than it was when he was worried.

Ben Zander: So when we get ill, we take pills. We take drugs. We say, “Take a pill for this and a pill for that.” And the theory is that you feel better. In music, don’t take worry to play better. It’s not a good drug. It’s not a good drug. It’s a helpless drug.

Ben Zander: 

In fact, it’s going to make you play worse. And that’s true of everything in life actually. You do everything worse if you’re worried. So that’s something worth discovering. That’s really terrific. And it’s something worth remembering. And you came all the way. But actually to hear that, to remind you. Because you knew that, that you forgot it, you forgot it. There’s a wonderful moment in the magic flute when a man is trying to kill himself. And he puts a rope over a tree and then tries to pull him up. It doesn’t work. And then he suddenly says these fantastic words, “The fool. I am, I forgot the magic thing.” The magic thing is his bells. With his bells, he can create magic, but he forgot.

Gerald Karni: I see.

Ben Zander: And that was beautiful. That was great. That was very exciting. The second moment with the next one.

Gerald Karni: (singing)

Ben Zander: So the thing to do is to reduce the impulses by one. So instead of making an impulse on every bar, you make it on every other bar. Now, if that’s the case, would you do (singings). Which would you do?

Gerald Karni: Second one.


Ben Zander: Second one. Everybody chooses the second one. Why? Because the notes are higher. There’s a big chord and even a trail. So (singing). All that energy, we’ll produce it. Actually, it’s not the second one because (singing). That’s the beginning. (singing). So just do that. (singing).

Ben Zander: Good. Good. Even more. So let me suggest you do this. Do (singing) and then stop. Now, do (singing). No (singing). And now imagine it’s a ball and you’re throwing it to me. Throw that. Yeah. But throw it fast so I have to hear.

Ben Zander: Now throw it right to the back of the park, right back here. Big throw. Three, (singing). Now put the music in between. Three There it is. We got it. Isn’t that great? So that’s the secret. Reduce the impulses, reduce the impulses, reduce the impulses. Don’t do emphasis on every bar. Do it again.

Ben Zander: Perfect. A little applause, please. Thank you. Okay. Now, here.

Ben Zander: (Singing) Okay. Now you have a phrase. Isn’t that right? Can you try that?

Ben Zander: Good. And now put the other. And is it the first or the second, which is it?

Gerald Karni: Second one.

Ben Zander: Second one. Exactly. Perfect. And that was so beautiful that we want to hear it again, which is why Bach wrote a repeat sign. So from the beginning three.

Ben Zander: 

Good. I have a very important distinction I call it, which we call one buttock play. This can only be demonstrated seated. One buttered play. That’s one buttered play. Now you are already standing, but I believe you can do one buttered play even when you’re standing. So when you get to this part try and give a feeling that you are going over the whole phrase.

Ben Zander: Ready? And before you begin, don’t look worried. It’s not an exam. From the beginning. And we begin to do it from the beginning. And when you get to this, you’re going to play one buttered playing, and then you’re going to repeat it because Bach loved it so much. He wanted to hear it twice.

Gerald Karni: (playing).

Ben Zander: Beautiful. Good, beautiful. Great.Thank you. Next one.

Gerald Karni: (playing)

Ben Zander: Beautiful. That was a very beautiful play. You’ve got a D which goes to an E. So be a little bit clearer for them because they may not know what you’re doing. And there goes to E. Try that.

Gerald Karni: (playing).

Ben Zander: Yeah. Good, good. Play that again. Oh, there he was. And look, his mother went. “Yes. Yes.” And she smiles. She heard it. That’s okay.

Ben Zander: Yes. That beautiful? Yeah. Gorgeous. God. You’re a great musician when you are let out of the cage. There’s a cage. And look, we have to be very clear. Where does this cage come from? It comes from the past. It comes from your Jewish heritage. It comes from your father. It comes from the conservatories. It comes from colleagues, competitions. The whole ball of wax that we wise human beings have set up life as a measurement. Life is not a measurement. Life is a dance.

Gerald Karni: That’s right.

Ben Zander: That’s it?

Ben Zander: You’re not in the youth ochs anymore, but you remember I gave an assignment every week. This week’s assignment I brought along. I’m going to give it this afternoon, Easter weekend, a time of renewal for people. And this is the assignment. Open a space for other people to radiate spirit and love, open a space for other people to radiate.

Ben Zander: Now, these three guys bless them. Down from Vermont. They are radiating spirit and love because of you actually, because of Bach, actually not because of Bach. Do you know what Bach wrote when he finished a piece of music? Do you know what words he wrote? For the glory of God. Okay. Now I don’t believe in God. You don’t need to believe in God. But something, possibility. We call it a possibility. So something is available to us all, us human beings every day, every minute of every day that we can get access to like electricity. We can plug the plug into that socket and get this reaction.

Ben Zander: It’s given to every human being. It’s not certain people have it, and certain people don’t. Everybody has it. A lot of people have lost it. Very small children have it, which is why we adore small children. We can’t resist pictures and films of little kids. How cute? Whoever they are. And then they grow up and the competition starts and the pressure, and the anxiety, and the parents say, “You got A-minus, how come you didn’t get an A?” That’s the Jewish conversation.

Ben Zander: You got 95 on your paper. What happened to the other five? The quintessential Jewish mother gives two shirts to her son. And then he comes down wearing one the next day. And she said, “What’s a matter. You don’t like the other one?”

Ben Zander: So that’s a conversation which you are living into. And we have to work very hard not to live into that conversation because everybody else is living into it too. And particularly if you find yourself surrounded by a lot of people you are the same age, who are competing for the same jobs and who are worried about money and who can’t get on with their parents and whatever they’re doing and fighting with their teachers and worried. And that’s the conversation you are walking into.

Ben Zander: A leader is somebody who knows that that’s happening and can do something about it. Because just to know it is not enough, although a huge step to know about it. “Oh, that’s that old conversation that Mr. Zander was always talking about.” We call it the downward spiral and it’s everywhere. Everywhere, everywhere. It stops when you die. It’s one of the only really nice things about dying. It’s over.

Ben Zander: In the meantime, it is a conversation in every conservatory hall. But it isn’t the only conversation that’s available. You know that right? There’s another one we call it a possibility. So now your job is to open a space for other people to radiate spirit and love. And then you play the way you’re playing and their faces will light up and they’ll go away and they say, “That was worth driving down from Vermont to here.” Isn’t that right? And that’s what we have to do.

Gerald Karni: Absolutely.

Ben Zander: And we have to do it every time we play. Otherwise, it becomes a routine. And you have a choice. Routine is available to you. And I promise you routine will give you a secure life. You’ll have a house and a car, maybe even a little fence around the house.

Ben Zander: The other way, I can’t promise you anything. But what I do promise you is a joyous life and a fully expressed life. And that’s all that matters. Because when you die and they write on your tombstone, “He had a white fence around his house.” It’s not quite enough.

Ben Zander: Great. Look, we’ve done it. We don’t need to do anymore. You’re great. Thank you for coming back. You’re one of those people I treasure because of what you represent and who you are and you are just a fabulous person, a great musician. Always searching, always searching, searching. And he came back to play. He told me that he wanted to play in this class three months ago because he knew he was going to be here. Said, “Please can I play in the class?” It’s really great. And here you are. And look, and now it’s not only all these people in this room, but it’s the people who Dave is picking up on the television and they’re going to watch their kids and say “That’s my life he’s talking about.” Isn’t that right? Isn’t that great? Thank you for coming. Beautiful, beautiful.

Horst Maier
'Wow! What a class! Zander runs around his student like a squirrel waiting for the next (musical) nut!'
Rizwan Jagani, violist
'What a privilege it must be to receive coaching from Maestro Zander. He's absolutely brilliant.'
Alan Wittert
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