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

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Haydn: String Quartet, op. 76 no. 5 - 1st movement

Interpretation Class
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Avanti String Quartet – Alina Santos (violin), Joseph Smith (violin), Sofia Moniz (viola), Matthew Buczowski (cello)

That’s the journey. It’s a beautiful thing to do. And it’s terrific strain. What I think all of you can do is raise the level of your playing so that it’s up to the challenges of this music.

— Benjamin Zander

Transcript

Ben Zander: They’re called the Avanti String Quartet, which means forward, Avanti. I’ll tell you while they’re getting ready. I’ll tell you a very funny story. There was an Italian captain in the war, and he got his troops all excited, and he gave a speech. He came out of the trench, said to the soldati, and gave this great speech. And then he drew his sword, saying “Avanti soldati”. And he ran forward. And all the soldiers in the trench said, ‘Bravo Capitano, bravo’ that was not the intention. Okay, Haydn.

Well done. Well done. This is a very, very difficult string quartet. It’s one of the most difficult ones. And you’re doing well with it. I’m very interested in knowing how many of you are thinking of being professional musicians, not necessarily decided. Are you thinking of being a professional musician? Good? Are you? You’re not sure. Probably not. You?

No. Right. No. Right. Great. Now that’s exactly what I would’ve said—listening to the quartet. There’s one member of this quartet who’s made a decision, a profound decision to take himself and his cello playing extremely seriously. And it’s a hard path for you to go on, but I’m convinced you are right about it, that you have the manner, the seriousness, the accomplishment to be a professional musician. And it’s a very, very hard task. And it’s something that I don’t think you have any idea what is asked of you to do that.

I think the three of you who have not decided to go are very wise, because what you can, what you can do is continue to enjoy music as a pastime, which is a beautiful thing to do. And that doesn’t mean you don’t play on a very high level because you can play on a very high level and still be doing something else. So the decision to be a professional musician is a very tough one. I want to read you something. I just think I just have time. Just hold this. If you just wait for a second, I have something I want to read to you.

This is, this is a new book. The original book we wrote is called The Art of Possibility. This is a book by Ros, the very lady I told you about. And of course, now, can I find it? Yes, I can. This is the story of Shackleton. The person who went out to discover Antarctica. Do you know about that? Yeah. And he put out a notice to get people to go with him, but he only wanted people of a particular kind of character. And so he, he was looking for the best, right. And this is what he put out in his advertisement. “Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor, and recognition only in case of success.” That was the advertisement that’s for you. All right?

So she goes on. “We can view Shackleton’s proposed venture as a game of exploration with clearly stated parameters, likely to draw only the most fearless amongst men pulling no punches, the ad was an all-out challenge to commit.” And that’s what’s needed for anybody who sets out on this task of being a professional musician. But I watched you while you were playing. And I said, yep. He can do that. And I wish you all the courage in the world. The story is a grim story. They were on the journey for two years, and they underwent unbelievable hardships. I mean, nothing compares to what you are going to go through in the music business, but, August 6th, 1914, they set out by August 1916, two years later, nearly 22 months after the initial departure of the Endurance, Shackleton himself returned in a seaworthy boat to rescue the men on Elephant Island, though, they had suffered injury infection, hyperthermia, attacked by an elephant seal, near starvation and unspeakable conditions. Not one member of the original 28 man crew was lost.

How was that possible? We have meager clues, but one stands out. Shackleton remained consistently positive in his outlook. And he forbade the expression of negativity or despair. Optimism is the true moral courage he declared. And he led his men accordingly.

If we think of the journey of the Endurance as an engagement, similar to a game, the instructions were to commit to living wholeheartedly with every fiber of your being in your speaking and actions. So that’s for everybody. I mean, that’s, the model is fantastic. It goes on for a long time. I’ll read you the very last chapter, which is addressed to you. Still, it’s actually addressed to all of them in all likelihoods Sir Ernest Shackleton did not perceive the voyage of the endurance as a game in any trivial sense. Still, his continued good spirits and openness to both adventure and risk certainly would’ve qualified him as being game. When the expedition came to an end, he wrote, this is what he wrote. “We had suffered starved and triumphed, groveled down yet grasped at glory, grown bigger in the bigness of the whole. We saw God in his splendors and heard the texts that nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man.”

So that’s the journey. And it’s a beautiful thing to do. And it’s terrific strain. What I think all of you can do is raise the level of your playing so that it’s up to the challenges of this music. And at the moment, it’s, you are holding back from that. And there’s a certain frustration as a result of that. So, I like the tempo, but it doesn’t lilt. Can you just do this again, alone? This figure alone. Right. Just do that. Just do, just do that right up into, to the G and no further.

Student 1:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben Zander:

Good, beautiful. Don’t hit the G. It’s just the top of the phrase. One and two. [inaudible 00:13:39] Beautiful. Just, just do it again and make it still more beautiful. Still more, every note is sung. One, two. Good. Try not to attack the G. Oh, that was beautiful. Was that beautiful? That was lovely.

Great. Now let’s add the rest of you to that. 1, 2, 3, 2. Good stop. Stop. Stop. That’s all we’re doing at the moment. We’re going to make this beautiful, like a jewel. Do it one more time alone. And then we’re going to add them. One, two. Can you get this figure? Now maybe your bowing is good. Do that together with the cello. One, two. Isn’t that odd? Because the D should change. So on the third D it’s going to be a scrunch with her. Isn’t it? So you have to make some intensity on that. Just do the two of you. 

Yeah. You see, she’s gone up to the E. Play your E and play your D right. Play the, make it alive between it’s a dissonance. Yeah. Ooh. That’s Ooh, scrunch, do it again. Right. And you might look at each other. Do you like him? Yeah. You don’t look at each other much. Do it again?

Student 1:

Just alone.

Ben Zander:

Yeah. Just the same thing. Come a little closer. Oh, sorry. You’re on the book. Sorry. Yeah. Okay. One two. Just do the E again against your D. Yeah. Do, do you like that sound? Do you like the two notes together? So players, if you love it. Right and then the whole phrase one. So, she goes up, and you go down. Do it again. One, two. Beautiful.

Now let’s add the second violin. One, two. Could you do the two of you together? And make it absolutely even the second violin and the cello. Yeah. That’s a little anemic. Yeah. Don’t be a second violin. Don’t be. Right once again. Don’t be a second violin play full, one and

Oh, that was beautiful. That’s gorgeous. Now the three of you, one and two. And let’s add the second violin. Do you think that’s enough? Wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t need anymore, but there’s one more voice. One, two. That’s so beautiful. That’s such a gorgeous thing to do. Make more of it. Make it as though it’s something very special. It’s coming once again, one and two. Can you make the A really beautiful? Because the A is the first sound that people hear. It’s like you meet somebody for the first time, and you go wow. Beautiful. One, two. Ah, so beautiful. Was that beautiful? That, that was beautiful. That was beautiful. 

That is working on a string quartet. That’s what it’s like. You work on it bar by bar, voice by voice, phrase by phrase until it’s perfect. And anything less is not enough for these great works. And that’s a shock to realize that you can’t just play it. It has to be played. And we haven’t mastered it yet. We’re on the way. For one thing, it’s not a joyful thing for you. I want to do one thing for you. You know, there’s a famous string quartet. I’ll just tell this story. I know this will make me late by five minutes, but it’s worth it. Maybe not.

There’s a violist called Eugene Lena, he was a great friend and somebody I revered very much. He played in the String Quartet, and the String Quartet played everything from memory, the entire repertoire. They played the first performances of Bartok and Berg, and Webern and Schoenberg, everything from memory. Can you imagine? And he told me every single concert there was a mistake of some kind or another. And one day, they were playing Op.95 of Beethoven, which has in the slow movement a big viola solo. And at that moment, his brain blanked out, and he forgot what to play. And the second violinist played it. The first violinist and the cellist had their eyes closed and didn’t realize. Right. Now, imagine when they came off stage, Lena said to the second violinist, “How did you know?” And he said, “Well, I could see your finger was on the wrong string.”

So anyway, just imagine what the second violinist had to do. He had to look over at Lena and say thank you. He said, “Oh my God, his finger’s on the wrong string. He must have forgotten. I’d better play it. And I better make it sound like a viola so that my colleagues won’t notice.” That’s a kind of a miracle of attention. So can you get very close to each other? You don’t move because you have your stick there. Even closer, right. Even closer. All right. Now play that first phrase. Can you turn a little bit? So you are, there. There we go. Now. Okay. Now play that first phrase together and be aware of each other’s sound.

Enough, enough, big improvement. Could you smile? Do it one last time. Now, imagine as you walk out of here, a bus is going to pass by and run you all down. And, and then we can send a note to your parents and saying, we are really, really sorry. Your children were lost in this accident, but you should have heard them play the first bar of the Haydn quartet. It was so beautiful. Alrighty. Here we go. Thank you. Wonderful, well done.

(Applause)

Ben Zander:

I’ll tell you what that applause is. That applause is for hard work, the seriousness of purpose, caring, listening, and wanting it to be great. And that’s why they’re clapping the way they’re clapping. They’re clapping for one bar, two bars, or three bars of music. And what they’re really saying is we respect you for being willing to work that hard and care that much. And if you can take that into your life, whether you become musicians or not, if you take it into the music, that’ll be your career working like that. A bar at a time, if you become a scientist or some other, in some other field, you will have learned something by being a musician that is not available to anybody who has not been on that path. So this is a kind of a celebration today of what music can do for people.

And there isn’t anybody in this room who’s resisting, except maybe somebody has a diabetic attack. But, still, otherwise, even the little ones, they all get it about music, about great music, and about what a privilege it is to be involved in what we are involved in, what a joy, what an unending source of love and inclusiveness and community. And I’ll tell you something in the other world, the world, without music, you have a disease, which is why so many people get ill because it’s a disease and what this music, Haydn, and Bach and Beethoven give us is access to health, spiritual health. And I encourage all of you to follow this path that way with this kind of dedication, and the rewards are enormous.

And I want to thank you or look at the whole community as, it turned out here, it’s something very special. And Andrew, thank you for what you’ve done to bring this whole thing, to make it all happen by getting in your car and driving for nine hours to Boston, and then coming again and, and bringing and encouraging me and enrolling me in being here. It’s been a privilege, a real privilege to be here. Thank you all very much.

It’s all music. It’s all great. Look at these beautiful faces. I want a photograph of all these, did you have a good time? Your eyes are shining. You’re the leader. You’re doing great.

Student 1:

Can I have your picture?

Ben Zander:

You can have whatever you want.

Student 2:

Can you do a thing called a selfie?

Ben Zander:

Yes. Shiny eyes, do you see that? That’s why we do it. All the best.

Student 4:

Thank you.

Ken Brown
'So heart warming. A call to excellence. I would love to study with Zander.'
ed2276 Music
'Before they played from memory and moved closer together, there was something missing from their sound. Ben used the word "anemic" at one point. I think that was right. But, when they moved in close together and played from memory, focusing on one another that was a "Wow Moment" for me. Their sound immediately became rich and alive; beautiful.'
No Name
'I have seen all of Zander's Interpretation Classes (well maybe not some of the singing ones) and I never fail to have shining eyes and the utmost admiration for him. Even the oft told stories are always fresh-sounding, including Bach's 20, 21 or 23 children. I'm only a couple of years behind Ben, and a few years ago in my 70th year, I bought a 'cello, and have been trying to learn to play by myself. I now own thirteen 'celli.'
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