UNDISCOVERED GENIUS

A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius."

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Bridging the Suzuki Gap

Bridging the Suzuki Gap


A Perspective on the Future of American String Playing

By Richard Freeman-Toole

The teaching of stringed instruments in this country is very much in a state of transition. The days of public school orchestra classes are, in more and more cities, becoming a thing of the past; indeed, a public school system that can boast a any string program at all, at the primary, middle, or high school level, is a solitary oasis in a desert of ever widening borders. Orchestra-consciousness seems to be dimming in the minds of the public to the point that many young people, otherwise reasonably cultured, have never even heard the word.

This is not to say that string teaching per se is dying out; no, paradoxically enough, Suzuki string programs thrive like mushrooms in the dark, every year introducing thousands of young people ( especially in the four-to-eight-year-old age range ) to string playing in every out-of-the-way grove and hamlet. Everywhere mothers want to give their children the edge in cognitive development offered by the muscular-coordinated challenges involved in such activities as aikido, ballet, gymnastics, and music. I stress the term " activities ", because this is precisely the attitude most parents take toward Suzuki lessons. Where the study of music was once considered a somewhat elitist, " rich kid " thing, a deep and serious discipline undertaken for the edification and advancement of mind and spirit, it is now one of a number of popular, quasi--educational diversions crammed materialistic into an hectic schedule of " activities "; activities designed to fill the two or three after-school-before-dinner hours was something fun to do, and heaven forbid if it isn't “FUN".

Hence the one or two class lessons, plus the one private or semi-private lessons for the week represent, in most cases, the parent and child's total commitment to the string instrument; some modicum of at-home practice is bound to take place right before the recital time, but the pervasive attitude toward the classes is that they are something to do for fun until the child gets tired of them (usually the second or third year), at which point the parent sells the instrument through the newspaper added 10-30% loss, and the kid promptly forgets everything he ever knew about music. Because of this deeply-rooted “learning must be fun" posture adopted by so many educators, parents become alarmed when the music classes get difficult or intense; the weak children invariably complain, and the parents either yank their children out of music altogether, or to seek a less intense teacher. For this reason, music teachers are terrified of losing income by pushing the students, so they slow down the class to the level of the least talented, repeat the same lesson over and over, and try to keep everybody happy by keeping everybody at a uniformly low energy level.

Since the beginners are often very young indeed, and since they usually quit right at the point where the music is beginning to get up into an intermediate level ( where it starts to be more than minimally taxing to keep up), and since the progress through the books ( excellent collections that they are ) is so slow, there's hardly ever question of any but a few of the children will be provided with even the basic mental equipment necessary for ensemble playing.

Obviously a gifted student who stays with the program long enough to get into the upper books will have finally caught on to music-reading without finger numbers and rote memorization ( although most of them, even the advanced ones, are lousy sight-readers), the students represent such a small percentage of the kids who start, the first simply are not enough to put together an orchestra big enough to sound like anything.

The sound isn’t even the most important drawback to small string groups, since the string quartet and the small string orchestra are two the nicest musical ensembles in existence; no, the biggest drawback is the “number " factor. We can't really blame the children for not supporting string programs, when the children themselves don’t support them. Kids like to be a part of something--they like to be with their friends, and they like to hide themselves in a crowd. String players already have enough rare-birds syndromes to deal with (" hey, what's he got in there, a machine gun? “), without taking the risk of sticking out in a dinky four or five-member group. In a certain sense, it can be said that Suzuki provides good preparation for band instruments, because every year thousands of junior high students desert the violin to join one of the much more popular and populous than programs which continue to thrive in the public schools.

The long and short of it is the Suzuki method does not prepare children to play in orchestral ensembles. Orchestras at every level, amateur to professional, are dying out, and without the local Youth Symphony or community orchestra to keep amateur playing alive, and an image, of what live classical music performances are like, in the mind of the public, the Suzuki programs themselves will crumble to nothing because no one really wants to give their child training in something that has absolutely guaranteed no future in it.

This article is aimed at the future. I believe the death of string playing is an unnecessary demise, and I expect that Suzuki-like programs could be the salvation of the American orchestra. I have no objection to the way children are introduced in the violin through the Suzuki method; if one takes a broad view the issue, one way is as good as another, and Suzuki has at least become identified in the minds of parents of primary-school-aged children as something wholesome and beneficial to do. The problem is getting the kids to stick--on this issue I am firmly convinced that the practicing/performing ensemble is the only answer. I'm just as convinced that unless the Suzuki teachers begin to take responsibility for the lack of ensemble training their students get, they will eventually lose their programs altogether by default.

As far as I can see, the responsibility for the musical education of our children is being shrugged off the shoulders of the public school system ( by the political system more more insensitive to the society's need for culture, higher mind ) and onto the shoulders of private, commercial organizations, of which Suzuki programs are a perfect example. The Suzuki teachers would broaden their view of their job’s potential impact on society, and if they are capable of extending the limits of their own musicianship to include ensemble leading/conducting, we might see a revival amateur orchestra playing of very positive statistical dimensions.

My suggestion is not complicated, it, but it does demand a higher level of commitment of private and class teachers—it is merely that we admit that whatever are the joys of learning the violin ( viola, cello, bass ) alone, the joy of contributing to the sound of a group gives that inner consciousness an outward, tangible manifestation, a reality that leaves an impression on the material world and creates meaning and significance out of implication and potential; the social experience, of being part of a group, of being caught up in a positive group energy, is a thrill that transcends your individual accomplishments, and can keep you going and motivate you to continue to accomplish even greater things.

Long after the solitary thrill is gone, the group thrill sings on in your heart. Playing music in parts is the bright fulfillment of a dream of which solo playing is merely the initial glimmer. Furthermore, I've always found playing in a progressing amateur group to be an incentive, more powerful than any other motivating factor, to get students hungry for a higher level of individual excellence; whenever I have started a string group, I have always wound up teaching, privately, a significant number of the players, because they want to get better for the group’s sake.

So, if Suzuki teachers expand their programs to include a rehearsal a week, playing in parts, and emphasizing sight-reading, that will save the American orchestra from extinction? Yes and no; for I believe that preparing children to play and an ensemble to be just one aspect ( the most important aspect, the object) of a unified vision of the future. How this preparation is accomplished is the soul of the solution, for the best of intentions can still fail to follow procedure if not strongly founded on far-sighted principles. The seem to me to be two glaring problems with the Suzuki mindset--one is the standard of excellence which the teachers hold up to the students as the goal they should shoot for, a standard that is well below the level that could make them players for life; the other is the time factor, i.e., getting them up to a high level of accomplishment in a short time, so that the good music becomes accessible to them before they get bored and quit.

A relatively high percentage of my students enter the professional world. I'm not a university professor, and am without any college affiliation; I'm merely a freelance private teacher and conductor, and attract the same class of students that Suzuki teachers do, mostly youngsters, plus a certain number of adult amateurs. Students do not normally come to me expecting to ever make money off the violin, and are surprised when I make the suggestion that they could. Music-making, as a profession, is not something highly recommended for people who have even the slightest affection for money ( indeed, when I say professional, I really mean semi--professional, since the vast majority of paid performers, and all of the handful of major orchestras, play music at night and work at other non-music jobs during the day ), yet, the moment I start a four-year-old or 40-year-old beginner, I always imagine that beginner as a professional player, four or five years down the road. The money is not the point, though these days it is the money that defines the word " professional"; the point is getting the student good enough that someone might actually like listening to him from the music's sake and not because he is a blood relative. I inspire the student to reach for a professional level of accomplishment, and consequently have been able to produce a fair number of professional players, and a large number of excellent, dedicated amateurs.

I realize this vision in two ways that differ fundamentally from the Suzuki approach: 
[Let me interject at this point an important aside. I have, throughout this article been taking a certain liberty with the term " Suzuki "; I have meant the term to generalize a kind of string teaching I've encountered innumerable times, in many, many places. The style of Suzuki teaching I have witnessed, (based roughly, but only roughly, on the teachings of Suzuki), are all similar enough to each other to justify such a generalization. However, so as not to incur the wrath of the innocent, I must hasten to point out that I have the greatest respect for Suzuki himself, his method, and his contribution to world culture. My teacher, Paul Rolland, upon whose work my method is largely based, was extremely indebted to Suzuki, and was, in fact, called by many the “Suzuki of America”. I am therefore more than superficially indebted to Suzuki, his publications, his great idea, and his other magnificent accomplishments. I must also add that there are better and worse Suzuki teachers. Any good violinist will have some chance of being a good teacher, especially if guided by a master whose method has some internal depth. However, most of the Suzuki teachers I've known (some 30 or 40 in different parts of the country) have been attracted to the method because they see it as a chance to jump onto some somebody else's bandwagon and warm themselves financially, over in the glow of someone else's accomplishments. I contend the teaching of any method without some spark of originality can only be dry and lifeless; moreover, the Suzuki method tends to attract teachers who have few or no ideas of their own. Therefore, the popular Suzuki method upon which I'm commenting throughout this article is not the pure Suzuki originated in Japan with such outstanding results, but a gross globalization of that method, that becomes more and more puerile with each succeeding generation.]

The first main difference is the way I teach technique, not the techniques themselves, but more the chronology. Most teachers teach little pieces of music to the kids providing with just the amount of technique to play the pieces. Since the first piece a child learns must be simple, the techniques tend to be simple to--anything to get them playing tunes right away. The difference here with me is that I make it a cardinal rule to prepare the technique well in advance of the demands of the literature. In fact there are a handful of techniques I consider germane to a professional violinist sound, and I teach them all right from the beginning. For instance, I do not wait a year for the student to encounter a piece that require shiftings to third position to teach third position. The very first left hand exercise I teach is a shift up and down the entire length of the fingerboard, so that the student is impressed from the beginning with the idea that there are notes all over the violin, and therefore there is a reason to keep the hand open and loose. I teach vibrato, almost immediately, as a basic not an advanced technique. My students learn in quick succession a variety of bow strokes, articulations on and off the string, so that bow styles become identified with different historical periods, thereby investing in their first playing a level of musicianship much higher than normal.

The purpose of teaching advanced techniques well ahead of the literature is to spare the student the trauma typically involved in his first encounter with a passage that is different from anything he has ever played before. Technique prepared out of context is always a much more powerful problem-solving approach than gripping than grappling in context with one or more readjustments of technique which sometimes involve an entire revamping a position, posture, coordination, etc.

An important side benefit of looking forward to the technical problems in advance literature is that this advanced literature, thereby, becomes accessible to the student much faster. I refer to this as a side benefit because the main purpose of the anticipation of technical problems is to provide the student with a solid foundation that will not have to be redesigned at a later stage; it is not to promote accelerated learning, although accelerated learning is always a bi-product of my method. I cherish this bi-product, because the sooner student moves into the world of real music ( real Bach, real Mozart), the sooner that student develops a life long devotion to the magical mysteries of serious music. The playing of original, unarranged versions of the Masters ( of whom there are plenty of intermediate level pieces) is an important quantum leap for the young musician, because even moderately untalented student can sense the underlying illegitimacy of mediocre, abridged, simplified arrangements of classical music. I remember with vivid clarity my first reading of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik when I was in junior high, when I thought, " Aa ha! This is real music !" the real thing is the real thing and anybody's ears--the tragedy is that so many people abandon music before they get to play the real thing.

You say, “How can all this accelerated musicianship be learned when your lessons and classes must be filled with technical exercises, scales, studies, etc.?” It is true that the first lessons are slow-moving--I'm in no hurry to play music and the students must accept this. I'm a great believer in the Zen slogan, " hurry slowly. " “Less is more, " is a good one, too. I can afford to take my time laying the foundation, because once the foundation is laid the students make very fast progress indeed, sometimes so fast that even I'm astounded after 20 years of teaching the same thing time and time again. This beginning stretch could be very difficult, and patience-trying, but it is like watching the rocket ship lifting off--once it gets going, it really goes, effortlessly, with joyful abandon.

After a successful lift-off, I work in a cycle, first concentrating on some technical area, then learning a piece that uses preponderantly that technique; then I go to a different technique for a different piece, etc. I do this in the private lessons, and with the ensembles, guiding them through the technical challenges of style while accumulating a backlog of technical expertise for the performance of ever more complex and varied music. Always the attempt is made to create, in the player's mind, living associations between a technical move and an integral element of style.

The second way my method differs from Suzuki is in the activity aspect of it, upon which I've already briefly commented:

I do find an activity as a group event which derives this group energy level by aiming for a lower average; by this I mean taking the energy output of the lower end (the least talented in the group) and bringing down the rest of the group to that level. Human beings are capable of harmonizing their energy with the energy of the established mean, and since group teachers are constantly establishing a group energy level based on what everybody can easily do, the talented kids rarely ever realize that they could give more, they could accomplish more, because they are never asked to try. What is worse ( if anything could be worse) the less talented students never get to feel what is it is like to be stretched. Consequently, everybody is sort of half-asleep, somewhat bored, certainly not excited, enthusiastic. One look at the posture of the students in these classes will tell you where their minds are.

It would be so easy to reverse poles and base the standard of excellence on the potentialities of the most gifted in the class rather than the least gifted, but the teachers firmly believe their income depends on moving slowly and carefully through the material, making few demands on the individuals in the group, and being satisfied with a low and uneven level of perfection. They think this is the way to keep everybody happy. In fact, catering to the most talented in the class would result in the same number of happy and unhappy kids, only instead of boring the talented, they might frustrate the untalented. There's no contest in my mind, because frustration can be dealt with by rising to the occasion, while boredom can only be dealt with by dissociation—this how we lose talented kids. The talented we might hang onto and make musicians out of them, the untalented, we're going to lose anyway sooner or later. To me talented, or untalented, it is the level of commitment that is important, a teacher who is committed himself can raise the level of commitment of his students by offering them a tangible goal and making them see themselves making progress towards that goal.

I have never catered to the lower average potential in any of my groups, yet I feel I've enjoyed a level of financial success at least equal to the less intense activity teachers. My classes are more like weekly workshops, than activities. I always push the students, getting them all to shoot for the higher potential average rather than the lower. I constantly single out individuals using them as examples when they do something well, and I give individual help when a student is having trouble. I ignore what psychologists call developmental stages, asking the same commitment, concentration, and accomplishment from all ages. I do not cater to touch-me-not egocentricity; I try to create an egoless atmosphere where the players face up to their inadequacies and constantly work on overcoming them. The standard not of excellence, but of acceptability is very high.

Most public school teachers will read the preceding paragraph and shudder with disbelief that a teacher could not only break all the rules, but advertise that he is doing so! A major commandment in the divine mandates public education is, “Thou shall not single out individuals!”, and yet, I have found that once students get over the initial shock of being asked to perform individually, they cherish the experience and compete with each other to get to be the first one to try. 

An old-fashioned, Piaget-derived teaching concept is that specific age groups have certain preordained abilities and certain fixed limitations. I could write a book refuting this idea, but, in a nutshell, let me just say that musical development is not like other kinds of cognitive development; it is much more like spiritual development which is ageless, epicene, crosses all borders, and knows no normal limits. Students typically prefer my classes the public school or Suzuki classes because they enjoy the feeling of putting out their best (which is rarely ever asked for), and because they can see they are getting somewhere. I can be rough on them, but the majority of them can see the good intentions behind my attic passions, and work hard to satisfy me, which, after all, is the point of it.

To summarize: 
I have said that string instrumental instruction is in a state of transition, 
the main arena of which is changing from public to private support. 
The American orchestra, which gets his backbone from the string section, is in danger of extinction because of this—for the private string instructors do not provide their students with ensemble experience, nor do they prepare them adequately to keep up in even an intermediate ensemble elsewhere. With the death of the orchestra must necessarily follow the death of private string programs as well; so it is in these programs’ best interest to create and nourish amateur musical ensembles of a size big enough to attract and sustain the thousands of kids who start Suzuki classes every year. This can only be done through an extra effort on the part of these teachers to create the ensembles, provide them with substantial music, and prepare the beginners’ technique and musicianship with an eye toward future ensemble involvement. I've done all these things myself and have, in my small way, made a difference. If this article could inspire one person to try what I've done, it will have been worth writing. People must keep playing music together, or else a unique source of social solidarity and spiritual power will be lost.

Laus Dei

February 16, 1989

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Music and the Body/Spirit

                            Music and the Body/Spirit


Music means "from the art (technique) of the Muse", or that which comes from that part of the mind which is least controlled by the fetters of human consciousness enslaved by the physical dimension. We play music to partially experience the feelings of freedom which are spirits know from our flights into deep psychic realms such as sleep, hypnotic states, religious ecstasy, and love. Each one of us has known freedoms of unlimited scope and dimension, but our physical embodiment limits are conscious memory of these freedoms, and our verbal mentality is incapable of expressing them in anything better than approximate, you might say, poetic, terms. Music is given by God as a path, as a half-way point between the language of man in the language of the soul. We cannot fully understand the message a piece of music gives us because understanding implies translation of information into the verbal language of thought, which is a physical phenomenon, centered as it is in the BRAIN, a physical organ. The spirit knows no specific values such as those which words express; therefore, to understand music must necessarily have something to do with transcending the physical into a super-conscious appreciation of values we cannot express in anything like physical terms. We understand music with our hearts--it is our hearts’ secret, not shared by our minds.

We appreciate the meaning of music in brief moments of recognition--an instant when the soul touches the mind with the light from the higher dimensions, and parts the veil for a little peek at the higher reality. We cannot hold on to this light any more than we can hold a rainbow in our hands—but the instant is palpable enough for us to want to continue coming back for more—we continue to seek that eternal moment, relive it over and over, and feel its influence affect our lives in ever more profound ways. Music whispers to our hald-waking mentalities that there is more to life than what we can see and touch and discuss and control.

Problems arise when our bodies interfere with the free movement of the spiritual energy through the material self. Part of our reason for physical incarnation is a need for groundedness—for that which makes us feel in contact with the earth. We are simple people who need the sense of safety attachment to physical things gives. However, music is always exerting a liberating pull away from the physical, such that, during the process of music-making, we can either flow with the spirit away from physical attachment, or we can succumb to the gravitational attraction of the flesh and remain attached, inflexible, earthbound. Observe a flag floating in the breeze—you cannot see the wind, but you can see the shape of the wind in the flag because it is supple and therefore malleable. If you put a piece of cardboard up there, you can still see the general DIRECTION of the wind (like a weather vane) but you cannot see the nuances. Thus, we must be relaxed to receive the subtle impressions of spirit on the muscles of our bodies—we must let go.


The choice of letting go is difficult, because our body-brain always seeks control, stasis, stability. Letting go is movement away from the central, fixed, ego structure into a wider de-centralized realm of consciousness. Furthermore, to let go of the physical, in making music, is a personal experience whose effects may not remain confined to making music alone. Certainly, the choice involves the adoption of a attitude toward physicality in general, which may go on to inform many other physical activities. To let go, when making music, is not to let go only when the music is playing, and then seize control again when the music is done—no, music motivates the energy for change within us, and, as such, it  affects the entire human being, the multi-dimensional being, on every possible level, and keeps on changing him after the music has sunk into cosmic silence. We cannot pretend that the person who plays music is different from the person who eats, goes to school, spiced with her brother, etc. And we cannot pretend that the person, after playing music, is the same person he was before he played music.

To experience the “letting go” required by the best music-making is to experience a personal revelation of the first order. The transformations worked on the personality by music-making our all-encompassing and complete. Once a person has experienced the freedom of music-making, it is difficult to return to the old way of living.

I do not mean to say that in all cases there is a lightning bolt from Heaven that sears our consciousness with radical new insights; this happens often enough to be sure, but by far the most common experience is a subtle, day-by-day, moment-by-moment, gradual change in the way the instrument lies in the hand, the way the sound flows from mind to vibration in air, and the way the spirit shapes the emotional responses to what the body is doing in the ear is hearing.

You must realize that the body is the receptacle of the soul’s wisdom and must be loose and supple to receive the subtle guidance of the mind's instruction. Your heart’s delight is in making the world of spirit come alive in the physical world, so you must be free to respond to the Spirit's direction. If you are, the power of spirit will lead your body down the path to freedom and increased spiritual awareness; if not, the music will drag miserably, and your body will never know the secret.

R. Freeman-Toole


January 9, 1984

The Cost of Quality

                                  The Cost of Quality


This piece was written after a disastrous orchestra rehearsal; it was Christmas, and everybody was distracted and not giving the music their full attention. I responded with anger and harsh words. The end product was a very controlled and self-conscious concert of a transcendent quality, but the orchestra members held on to their irritation with me personally. A collection of quotations about musical temperament was distributed before the concert, and the following overview was given to them some weeks after the performance.

Here is a selection of the quotes I distributed to them right before the performance:

Apology

On Toscanini:
“I have talked to hundreds of men and women who have rehearsed under Toscanini, and there has not been one without some vivid memory, some scar, or some flash of the limited illumination to recall.

Yes, rehearsals have meaning, and if they have failed of this requirement, Toscanini has been unaccountable for his behavior.

All as well if the rehearsing musician shows good will, concentration, and energy. But let there be some sign of stupidity or indifference, and the conductor's gorge begins to rise, his language turns more colorful, and his words break off in the middle of sentences and phrases.

“Look at me! Look at me!" he exhorts. “Sing, make it sing! Piano! Piano!” The voice becomes loud and piercing, “PIANO!"

He did not get a soft effect once and suddenly he shouted thunderously, “Tranquillo here!"

Another time the tempo went wrong. “My tempo," he screamed, "not yours!"

The recent mistakes in the oft-repeated compositions drive him frantic. They haunt him even when he is not rehearsing with the players. There is a story of something that happened on tour with the New York Philharmonic that sheds a bright light on the way his mind works. During a short train hop, he was seated in a corner of a parlor car going over a score he was to conduct that night. The men could watch him waving his arms, beating time and giving cues to an invisible orchestra. At one point he gave the signal straight ahead of him--obviously to the wind section--and suddenly shouted, “No! No!” 

When singing and gestures do not turn the trick, he breaks out into spoken common. His remarks are brief and ejaculatory as a rule. They made pierce through the sound of the music, or they may bring the music to a halt. They may be pleading, sympathetic, hurt, sorrowful, angry, abusive, piquant, funny, tortured, and apocalyptically outraged. They are always directed at the point in question; their purpose is always musical.

Another time his voice became pleading: "I know it is difficult to be intelligent--but try, please try!"

To the whole orchestra: “Damnation on we Guido d’Arezzo for his invention of notation!"

Musicians of several generations who have worked with him agree that he is a master psychologist. They wonder whether the temper tantrums that have shaken him and his rehearsals have not often been turned on deliberately. They admit that once he gets his steam up, his rages may follow an unpredictable course, but they feel that in many cases Toscanini's outbursts are nicely calculated to arouse the performers to the pitch of intensity and concentration he wants all rehearsals to have.”

“For to articulate sweet sounds together 
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergyman
The martyrs call the world. "
           W.B. Yeats

On Beethoven:
“Etiquette, and all that etiquette implies, was something Beethoven never knew and never wanted to know. As a result, his behavior when he first began to frequent the palace of the Archduke Rudolph often caused the greatest embarrassment to the latter's entourage. An attempt was made to coerce Beethoven into the deference he was supposed to observe. This however, Beethoven found an unendurable. He promised betterment, it is true, but--that was the end of it. One day, finally, when he was again, as he termed it, being “Sermonized on court manners," he very angrily pushed his way up to the Archduke, and said quite frankly that though he had the greatest possible reverence for his person, a strict observance of all the regulations to which his attention was called every day was beyond him. The Archduke laughed good-humored and over the occurrence and commanded that in the future Beethoven be allowed to go his way unhindered; he must be taken as he was.

He had ears only for his composition and was ceaselessly occupied by manifold gesticulations to indicate the desired expression. He used to suggest a diminuendo by crouching down more and more, and at a pianissimo he would almost creep under the desk. When the volume of sound grew he rose up also as if out of a stage-trap, and with the entrance of the power of the hand he would stand up on the tips of his toes almost as to almost as big as a giant, and waving his arms, seemed about to soar upwards to the skies. Everything about him was alive, not a bit of this organism was idle, and the man was comparable to a perpetuum mobile.

That day I had well-nigh the two-hour lesson. When I left out something in the passage, a note or a skip, which in many cases he wished to have specifically emphasized, was struck around key, he seldom said anything; yet when I was at fault with regard to the expression, the crescendi or matters of that kind, or in the character of the piece, he would grow angry. Mistakes of the other kind, he said, were due to chance; but these last resulted from want of knowledge, feeling or attention. He himself often made mistakes of the first kind, even when playing in public.

Nobody but Beethoven could govern Beethoven; and when, as happened when the fit was on him, he did deliberately refused to govern himself, he was ungovernable.”

On Schonberg:
On one occasion, Schonberg asked the girl this class to go to the piano and play the first movement of a Beethoven sonata, which was afterwards to be analyzed. She said, “It is too difficult. I can't play it." Schoenberg said, “You are a pianist aren't you?" She said, “Yes." He said “Then go to the piano." She did. She had no sooner begun playing than he stopped her to say that she was not playing at the proper tempo. She said that if she played at the proper tempo, she would make mistakes. He said, “Play at the proper tempo and do not make mistakes." She began again, and he stopped her immediately to say that she was making mistakes. She then burst into tears and between sobs explained that she had gone to the dentist earlier that day, and that she had a tooth out. He said “Do you have to have a tooth pulled out in order to make mistakes?"

On Intuition:
“Spontaneity of execution is the essence of music vitally connected to the human body, through the mouth, the ears, and the emotions. Spontaneity does not necessarily imply any inconstancy of execution; it is almost always present when a piece of music is performed, with almost no deviations, as it was conceived, and the same every time.”

Sayings of Yogananda:
“The master was the meekest of the meek in many ways, what on suitable occasions she could be adamant. A certain disciple, having seen only the soft side of Paramahansaji, began to neglect his duties. The guru upbraided him sharply. Seeing the amazement in the young man's eyes and his unexpected discipline, the Master said:

“When you forget the high purpose that brought you here, I remember my spiritual obligation to correct your fault. "

Charles Ives:
“Perhaps music is the art of speaking extravagantly. Herbert Spencer says that some men, as for instance Mozart, are so peculiarly sensitive to the emotion that music is to them but a continuation not only of the expression but the actual emotion, though the theory of some more modern thinkers in the philosophy of art doesn't always bear this out. However, there is no doubt that in its nature music is predominantly subjective expression, and poetry more objective, tending to an objective expression.

There comes from Concord an offer to every mind--the choice between repose in truth--and God makes the offer. “Take which you please-... Between these, as a pendulum, man oscillates. He in whom the love of repose predominates will accept the first creed, the first philosophy, the first political party he meets--most likely his father's."

The Idea of Order at Key West
BY WALLACE STEVENS

“She sang beyond the genius of the sea.   
The water never formed to mind or voice,   
Like a body wholly body, fluttering 
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion   
Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry,   
That was not ours although we understood,   
Inhuman, of the veritable ocean. 

The sea was not a mask. No more was she.   
The song and water were not medleyed sound   
Even if what she sang was what she heard,   
Since what she sang was uttered word by word. 
It may be that in all her phrases stirred   
The grinding water and the gasping wind;   
But it was she and not the sea we heard. 

For she was the maker of the song she sang.   
The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea 
Was merely a place by which she walked to sing.   
Whose spirit is this? we said, because we knew   
It was the spirit that we sought and knew   
That we should ask this often as she sang. 



If it was only the dark voice of the sea   
That rose, or even colored by many waves;   
If it was only the outer voice of sky 
And cloud, of the sunken coral water-walled,   
However clear, it would have been deep air,   
The heaving speech of air, a summer sound   
Repeated in a summer without end 
And sound alone. But it was more than that,   
More even than her voice, and ours, among 
The meaningless plungings of water and the wind,   
Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped   
On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres   
Of sky and sea. 

                           It was her voice that made   
The sky acutest at its vanishing.   
She measured to the hour its solitude.   
She was the single artificer of the world 
In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,   
Whatever self it had, became the self 
That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we,   
As we beheld her striding there alone, 
Knew that there never was a world for her   
Except the one she sang and, singing, made. 

Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,   
Why, when the singing ended and we turned   
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,   
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,   
As the night descended, tilting in the air,   
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,   
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,   
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night. 

Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,   
The maker’s rage to order words of the sea,   
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,   
And of ourselves and of our origins, 
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.”

It is with a degree of dissatisfaction that I look back upon our recent Christmas concert. My fits of temper, in preparing the concert, have created a sensation which has been so damaging to the morale of the orchestra that I almost wish we had not attempted it. Yet, in every failure there is the seed for success, and I would like to discuss the various levels of failure and success of the concert, in an effort to disclose some insights I have had through the experience, and to point the way in a new direction for our exciting, fast-growing group. 

First of all, sorry though I am that my emotional life is not what I might wish it to be, and might hope that it may become in future, I positively do not apologize for my behavior, and I do not accept the censure of those people are the orchestra whom I have offended; to be offended where no offense is intended, is petty, and I will continue to ignore pettiness and other people as I attempt to overcome it in myself. You have seen above, that I have created a collage of quotations about Toscanini, Beethoven and other great men who were likewise famous for the fits of temper, and I offer this collection for the amusement or enlightenment of those who might wish to learn the making of good music has never been a stress-free process. 

Still, this mock-apology is not enough, because the implication is that I am right and it's all your fault. It truly takes two to tangle. If I were blameless, it is unlikely that I would have so many people mad at me, and yet, if there were not a grain of truth to my accusations that you were not working, not concentrating, not acting in a committed way, do you really think you would have got so defensive? The fact that I was able to get results by being rough with you is proof that you were not giving me the maximum energy you were capable of; you were tired, your tiredness made you lazy, or laziness made the music suffer. Was I can reward you for giving a small fraction of your potential? Is that what you pay me for? There isn't enough money to pay me to do that.

It may surprise you to know that I acknowledge, musically, that the concert was a great success. It took many hearings of the tape for me to get past the emotional residue of the experience and realize that there was a high level of ensemble feeling there, and that our identity as an orchestra (despite the numerous personal difficulties) was discernible in every bar. The concert was technically difficult in terms of the variety of the idioms we had to work through, and the counting problems associated with mixed meters (which to many are still a vague mystery). Whether you like to admit it or not, the pressure I put on you made you play better, even though many of you played better like a resentful child being made to stand and recite his lessons while the other children get to go outside. Hence, through force of will, I created the Frankenstein of all music teachers’ and nightmares, an orchestra that plays correctly without wanting to. Your unwilling obedience to became a mockery of my intentions, which was to make you play with understanding and joy.

So where do we place the blame? Many of you will raise up the objection, “But we are not professionals, we don't have the technique to do what you ask.” To which I repy, “I never ask you to do anything you had not already proven you could do. It was not your inability to do something I asked you to do once, that infuriated me, it was your inability to do things I asked you to do repeatedly that infuriated me!” To which you reply, “Well, if you had asked nice, I would've tried harder.” To which I reply, "I did ask nice, the first five times.” To which you reply, “Well, you're a jerk." To which I reply, “Well, you're stupid.”etc., etc., etc. All to no avail. Indeed, the blame cannot be assigned to any individual, but rather to reality--and who ever heard of blaming reality?

The reality was that we put together a difficult concert very quickly, and a semester's worth of musicianship was hammered into you in a month; all the time my perception saying, “You can do it, you can do it, JUST DO IT,” and your perception saying, "I can't, I can't, it's too much"; or, more correctly, your bodies’ ingrained habits were telling you you couldn't.

So the basis of our conflict of wills was over my insistence on a high level of professionalism stylistically, and your bodies’ insistence on staying the same. I was asking and later demanding that you change, while we all suffered from your bodies’ unwillingness to change. To change is made difficult, because the mind resents being forced out of its habitual groove, and thus creates negative emotional vibrations which can be indiscriminately directed at any available scapegoat. Do you not see that the changing caused the stress you felt, not me? How could you believe your inner monkey voice accusing me of belittling human hating you and thinking you were worthless, when all the time I was busting my butt trying to get you to realize the great musician that is within you. Does a teacher waste his energy on an untalented student? Does a well-digger sink a shaft where he thinks there is no oil?

Clearly, my error was in failing to explain to you the purpose or possibility of these little nuance I tried to teach you. Instead of letting the conception that lay behind my stylistic design unfold before you, I stood like a madman in front of you demanding blind obedience and becoming insensible when you fail to understand me, the clock ticking away behind me. Many of you who finally did what I had been asking could never appreciate how much better things were sounding because your attention was absorbed in disliking me for the way I got to do it, or in fearing that I would stop and say it was still not good enough. It is a shame that the tension involved in teaching all the details together robbed us all of the sensual enjoyment we might have experienced; but, in a larger sense, is enjoyment the deepest experience music and bring us?

Far from enjoying a performance, I can hardly think of a performance in years where I was even fully conscious. My involvement in the moment puts me in a trance-like state which robs me of any objective perception of the performance’s gestalt. My mind cannot hold a performance experience in perspective, because the next moment, huge and dancing with its own life, crowds out the memory of the previous moment. For this reason, my mind tells me nothing about the quality of performance, least of all whether I am enjoying it.

Feeling too, is an unreliable music critic, since feelings can be chaotic and unbalanced. If we become channels for divine energy, we may have no positive feeling whatever, and yet we may still be the unconscious brush with which God paints a beautiful picture in the air. This is not the best way, but it is a valid way, and it is, moreover, the way I believe the energy from our Christmas concert was channeled. The tape tells me this. My heart tells me this. That concert had the kind of quality that you begin to appreciate in retrospect, after the smoke has cleared. Feelings of enthusiasm would have changed the character of the channeling, but the concentration I coerced out of you opened the Gates of Heaven and angels sang through our unwilling lower selves.

The task before us, as I see it, is to enlarge the orchestra's understanding of rhythmic notation in such a way that the movement of the conductor becomes a more meaningful reflection of what the player sees on the page. To inspire trust in my movements, I must patiently train that majority of the orchestra whose musicianship is not well developed. Discipline is the key word, but discipline through trust.

There may be a time for fast work in the future, but, for the time being, I am content to step back and spend a month or two going over basics. I wish to be understood, so that you can grow. I can teach you to find the great musician in yourself, but it will never be easy, and if you do not want to change, you will never like being in my orchestra, whether I am polite or not. The cost of quality is your ego. Leave it outside in the parking lot--that way no one will walk on it.

Laus Dei 

December 31, 1986

Saturday, April 22, 2017

December 24, 1994

December 24, 1994


Dear friends and relations,

The Christmas season is always a time for looking back, remembering with affection those whom we seldom see or whom we may never see again. It is easy to say we remember each other and love those memories, but the here-and-now keeps making us think our actions speak louder than words-and my actions toward most of you are a big fat nothing. The hypocrisy of a yearly letter that makes a pitiful grotesque gesture of devotion and which is not followed by anything but a pitiful, grotesque letter a year from now makes me ashamed. I've always been a terrible friend. My only hope is that we are meeting regularly, or will meet, and some higher dimension where there is no time, distance, or money to keep us from enjoying the community of those with whom we share an affinity. We must cling, in the hypocrisy of our lazy actions, to the idea that like minds can never be parted, and will one day be joined in mutual acts of praise of and in the One Consciousness that creates and binds us together and timeless, distanceless love, with no end-of-the month billing statement or interest accrued “sic”.

With that cheery overture let us turn to the details of this year's events:

This year has been one of momentous change in preparation for even bigger changes in the coming year. As most of you know I've been teaching at Lewis and Clark College in Lewiston Idaho for the past 5 1/2 years, teaching most of the real music classes (music survey, electronic music, piano, violin, theory, composition, conducting, orchestra, and piano class), rendering the fall of 1993 I began teaching survey at the University of Idaho. These developments, which have taken place over time with practically no effort on my part to make them happen, have reversed a prophecy which was made at UCLA 15 years ago to the effect that I would never teach college. 

I have now been teaching college for six years, with great success. That is to say my teaching has been a success-I have a very extensive, positive reputation throughout most of the area, and a large class a very devoted students. However, anybody who thinks this career has been lucrative, is not understand the meaning of the term "adjunct faculty". Adjunct faculty are people like me (professional failures) who are willing to work for practically nothing, and pretend to be on a college faculty. Their unknowing students refer to them as "Dr." and “Professor " while the administration treats them like shit on their shoes. I saw an Ernie Kovacs comedy routine a long time ago about the difference between 1st and 2nd class seats on an airplane: 

The people in 1st class got to drink champagne and eat caviar, while the 2nd class passengers got Cheeze Whiz on a stale cracker; 
at the end of the routine, the second class passengers are instructed to de-board the plane, after which an announcement comes over the loudspeaker, to the 1st class passengers, that the plane would be landing in 10 minutes.

This is what it is like being adjunct faculty. I make about 30% of what the regular tenure-track faculty make for the same amount of work. Consequently, since I practically AM the music department, in terms of the number of students I see and the number of courses I teach, I am working constantly for an amount of money that will simply not support a family. Since I never thought I would ever make it in the academic world, the success of the past six years is a startling surprise for me—so much so that Louise and I decided to try to do something about it-to act on this success and try to get a position somewhere for real money, with the real identity in the bureaucratic structure.

At first I began applying for jobs. I've applied for several jobs in the past year (maybe 10, I get them mixed up with the competition I enter, since I never keep track of them was the stuff is set off, and applying for a job is just like entering a contest-a lot of xeroxing and mailing) with no positive response. Not that I think 10 applications is a lot, but I know that if I could get to the interview stage with some of these jobs I would be a very strong contender, and I also know that the applicants with PhDs get first choice. Therefore, WE decided that a trip back to school was the only sane decision to make. It is a long shot, but I am still young, and if I could get a degree and get a job before Emlyn is 16 I can probably send them to college. If not, Louise has to get a job at McDonald's and my kids have to attend Podunk Community Trade School.

Louise’s father died this spring. It was a very tragic affair, since we were getting on the plane to attend his wedding and three weeks later we were attending his funeral. It was really shocking since Louise’s father seemed to be the most indestructible person will knew, but his death, and the inheritance associated with it, gave us a little leverage to think about investing in an uncertain, life-altering future. This summer, I got the chance to do something I've always wanted to do —go on a long car ride with my boys to see some of the country (Mt Rushmore, Chicago, the Badlands) to be with them for an intense period of quality time, and to check out possible places to relocate to an appropriate graduate school. We went to Lincoln, Nebraska, Lawrence, Kansas, and Champaign, Illinois. In Illinois, my boys got to see where I grew up, meet my Aunt Dorothea (who was like a mother to me), my cousin Judy K (who was like a sister to me), my aunt Betty (who, as a professional teacher for the past 35 years, has more in common with me than probably any other relative), and my father and his family. I felt a renewed interest in family at that time, and since the death of Louise’s father has weakened all ties with California, it is an inviting thought that I might give my kids a sense of family with people I have not had anything to do with for the past 20 years. I'm not confident that I can be any better of a family member than I am a friend, but if convenience counts for anything, I might be able to pull something out of the toilet.

Louise (good and faithful, hard-working, patient, diligent, resourceful, and humble Louise) and I copied a mass of papers and forms this fall, and this week I sent the last of the applications off. I had to put together resume packages, take two major pain in the ass standardized tests, print music, make tapes, and write letters. I'm sure I worked harder this semester than I ever will when I finally get to college. We have financial aid forms to face in January, but I will know by March if either the U of Kansas, U of Illinois, or the U of Washington (Seattle) wants me. Then we have to discern if there is any chance of an assistantship.

My main problem with getting into graduate school is the same as my problem with every music job I ever had-I'm over-qualified and under- certified. I filled out an assistantship application for the UW that listed about 12 types of classes (piano class, choral conducting, accompanying, etc.), asking what experience I had teaching any of those classes; it turns out that I already taught every single entry at least twice of the college level. I say this is a problem, because the current educational biases in favor of specialization. It is going to be hard for a bureaucrat sitting in a fluorescent-lit office somewhere to believe that anybody can do so many different things with anything like a professional level of competence, so the compelling conclusion will be that I can't really do anything. The problem is compounded by the personal ambition I have of continuing to do all the things I do now. I really like having my own orchestra, my own class of college piano students, my own electronic music studio. I don't want to give up my job at LCSC, I just want to make more money.

I’ve never cared about money. I know I could have stayed in LA and made lots of money, but I rejected the madness. I've always cared about reputation a lot more, and have cherished the high regard in which have been held by the many international musicians I've known; however, I have not cared enough to implement a steadfast aggressive tactic for acquiring fame. Part of it is laziness, and part of his knowing that I have been too far ahead to be understood by the decision-making, check-writing establishment.

The third part is something I've always known about myself-that I would be a late bloomer. I feel that I've arrived at a major crossroads in my life. I feel that my work is beginning to come into focus-I'm entering my prime and may never get much better than it is going to get in the next few years. I learned to adapt, I've learned how to be liked, so it is now or never.

My family is growing up. My boys are always achieving new levels of us copies but in the arts. They're both writing music with me at the computer, and wowing the locals with their creative precocity. Ambrose keeps creating wonderful abstract computer drawings, and he has begun writing very intense, literate poetry. Emlyn continues to win prizes for his fiction writing and is now involved in converting one of his stories into a radio play. He plays very good oboe for a 10-year-old, both holding down the second part and major orchestral literature we play with the LCSC Community Orchestra, and improvising Windham Hill free jazz with me. Ambrose is the second worst violin student I ever had (he just broke his second violin bow in a fit of temper) but Santa Claus got him a guitar for Christmas, which he is very intent on learning, and he is the Pullman's foremost expert on the music and history of the Beatles. Louise is getting a piece published in an anthology of feminist articles about grandmothers, and has a serious offer from the U of Idaho press to publish her grandma Val’s Square Island Journals.

Our marriage has his ups and downs. It's in the shithouse today, fine tomorrow, like life I guess. I hate the dog, but other than that, there is not much else to report on that front.

The orchestra played a concert of piano concerti (Beethoven #1, and Bach A major) and my students played like Angels. We're now involved in preparing a concert of student compositions created in the compositions/arranging class. I seem to have an even more remarkable talent for teaching composition than I do for anything else, and the works produced this semester can bear comparison with any undergraduate composition program in the country.

Then there's the Chinese connection. I'm getting interested in a major way in moving to China to teach. I've had better than 80% Asian students for the past six years, and I'm really wondering if my destiny is not leading me to the east. DMA first, then we'll see.

I'm running out of things to say.

It is hard to feel that I'm not talking to myself, so if this letter is not going to out into a vacuum let me hear from you. We all had to say goodbye sometime. When will it be?

Yours,


RFT

On the Relationship Between Forgiveness and Attachment

On the Relationship Between Forgiveness and Attachment


It is the quandary of my life that I've been so respected by so many musical big-shots in the professional world, yet have never become a big-shot myself. I look at the level of talent that fills the number one spot in any of the areas where I have expertise (mainly violin, conducting, and composition, but also in the important realm of teaching), and I say to myself, “I can do that, I can sound like that! Why is it not recognized that I deserve the same respect that these people enjoy?”

The answer always comes resounding back out of the void in great black cartoon letters, spoken by the voice of grandmother God, “YOUR PERSONALITY SUCKS!!!”

“oh,” I say.

I get so much thought to this problem, and have so many times stubbornly set my heels in the dirt against the pull of change, I thought I must ever remain  frustrated and cursed by a character flaw that I was powerless to transcend. Of the many things upheld against my father, his total failure to nurture a talent in his son that he really couldn't comprehend in the slightest, I blame my father for this personality trait because it is the exact same trait that plagued him all the time I knew him, and that eventually brought them down to the lowest possible professional level, that of a janitor. The short temper, the egocentricity, the always thinking I'm always right, the reveling in being the oddball, the superior attitude to the world, these all came from him. I loved and respected my father, and imitated him so well that it brought about our alienation and loss of contact. It is a terrible thing to have what you have had thought were significant gifts, and watch the world pass you by, and all because you can't control your obnoxious behavior in public or at home.

The big argument I kept coming back to over and over when I was refusing to adopt certain social conventions that might have made be more accessible to many, was that my best qualities in teaching and conducting are my spontaneity, my honesty, my caring enough to get personal right away; I thought if I started acting fake I would cheapen and deaden my aesthetic sensitivities--it would be like constantly feeling everybody's hands all over me, chains! chains! I've actually got better with the polite clich├ęs recently, but the central problem remains, the central problem remains, the central problem remains.

I believe it must start with envy--coveting my neighbor's goods--the first ugly entangling vines from the seed of ATTACHMENT. I am in need of security, I'm in need of freedom from the fear of death, that my life will have net something, and I am so ATTACHED to the transitory delights of the physical world that I begin to interpret success in terms of material accomplishments. This leads to holding a grudge against the wall for not giving me what I deserve, starting at the top with the publishers didn't publish me, and the colleges that didn't hire me, straight down to the janitor who works in this crummy shithole where I work, where they are so desperate they have to hire me because nobody from Juilliard would touch this job. 

IshouldbeteachingatJuilliardIshouldbefamous….

What a realization! I am treating store clerks and secretaries like shit because I never got published!

I have started a campaign my life to forgive the world for not appreciating me and mistreating me. “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” Why not let them know what they do, let them know the person they are screwing by spreading vicious gossip, or forming step judgments that don't change for the next 10 years. Let yourself like people! Let yourself “give as before”. There is no ultimate value to any of the things we do on this earth, so why let attachment to a false value screw up your play time here in Eden?

The enormous pressure of pent-up tension and anger is released through the power of forgiveness. By letting go of my personal desire for fame I am thus able to forgive the world for not giving me fame, and am thereby made free to love and cherish the spiritual, the non-transitory realities of life. If I put myself in God's hands and trust Him to realize my potential at His leisure, I am happier, more confident, more powerful, more powerful, and even better equipped to create and handle success for myself than ever before. 

It is with this revised attitude I enter the new year. It is my sincere desire to remain a small part of your life. In any case we are sure to catch up with one another in the next life.

Yours,


RFT