The Responsibility Of Playing Very Old Music

Sometimes, when I think about what I do, it can seem a little absurd!  My fellow classical musicians and I have spent thousands and thousands of hours and dedicated our WHOLE LIVES to working on, practising and performing music that is so old it has already been played millions of times before us and, if you want to look at in a dark way as I do, probably much better than us too.  So why do we persist?! What’s the point?

 

Perhaps some of my colleagues would say that being a classical musician was a career they fell into, a childhood hobby that went too far, and they have invested far too much to give up now so may as well keep plugging away at it.  Others might passionately remark that it does not matter if this Beethoven Sonata is probably at this very moment being played by five thousand other violinists across the world and millions more before them; the music is too wonderful, we must have our chance to express it too and to keep it alive.  The more egotistical musicians out there might even disregard the countless performances given before them – surely their’s is going to be the BEST one so far, and so they have every right to give it!

 

I reckon there is a place for each of these arguments.  Somehow or other, whether by choice or because we absolutely had to, we ARE classical musicians.  We have a wonderful skill and something to say and I believe that there is a duty and room for us all in this world to say it – I have to believe that!  And even those egos may have a point; if we are going to play a piece of Bach that is over 350 years old, we have to be confident that our version will be a little different from anyone else’s, that we have a new idea to put out there and really sell it.  I remember when my teacher gave me the Tchaikovsky violin concerto to learn, I was less than thrilled.  It was so hard for me to feel excited about all the work that I was about to put into learning this piece that every other violinist in the world has already done, to hear it with fresh ears without automatically thinking of the numerous performances of it I already hear each year.  When I talked to my friend about my feelings, she told me that the point of playing the Tchaikovsky, though, was not just to learn it as everybody else has before me, to reenact the same ideas and the same music as they all have.  The point of playing it was to come up with something new and different, an interpretation that would be completely unique to me.  I absolutely loved this idea!  Playing this old ‘warhorse’ of a piece now felt like an exciting challenge to create something new out of it!  What an opportunity I had been given!

 

Sometimes I look at painters or composers or choreographers with envy; these are people who’s art will always be new and theirs alone.  They get to go to work every day and create something from nothing that nobody else could call theirs.  This always seemed so luxurious to me.  But I am realising more and more that being a classical musician is not so far away for this.  We also have to create; every day we create new ideas and find new ways of playing things, new techniques to make new sounds which are all the more exciting because we can apply them to old pieces of music in this amazing kind of new-old fusion!

 

The fact is, the music that we play may be old in it’s age, but it is not old at all in it’s relevance to us and our lives or it’s ideas or even in it’s progressiveness.  That is what is SO unbelievable about it.  You can listen to a choral movement by Bach today and still feel affected and touched, that what he was saying and writing all those years ago still matters to humanity and the world right now.  Classical music is an old art form, but it is our job as musicians to show everyone how current it really is and that is why we MUST persist in our practice and work and performances of these old giants.

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