Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Elemental Virtuosity

Every year at tax time, I shake out an envelope of receipts and add up how much money I've spent on books, CD’s, instruments, concerts and other potentially deductible tools of my trade. As I read the concert receipts, I take some pleasure in remembering the event, usually one that was enjoyable and uplifting.

But it’s rare that I find a concert as astounding as the annual Untalent Show (un-talent as in un-expected, un-inhibited, un-precedented) at our Levels Training. Every color in the rainbow of emotion, and many of the nuanced shades as well, are present. Some of the 25 plus acts tickle our funny bone, some warm our hearts, some please our ear and some dazzle us with their brilliance. Doesn’t matter which color it is— it’s all good. And more than good.

What first constantly surprises me is the virtuosity of students who we’ve only seen play five-note melodies on glockenspiels. But put a violin or saxophone or tambourine in their hands and a whole other self emerges, the one who spent countless hours practicing and refining the details of technique and repertoire. I always remark that if we had this show the first night, we’d be terrified to teach these incredible musicians. It’s better that they surprise us.

But the real beauty is that virtuosity, while duly admired, is not the only show in town. I remember a few years back, the incredible Jackie Rago and Estevao Marquez performed a duet with maraccas and tambourine that had everyone’s jaw dropping. When it was over, I turned to my neighbor and whispered, “I’m glad I’m not next on the list!” But the indomitable Casey LeLake strode up with her guitar and jumped in with her 17 Wheels on a Big Rig song that amazed and delighted us in its own way. And in fact, became a staple in our future Untalent Shows.

It happened again tonight that there were some exceptional virtuosic displays, but all someone had to do was play a sincere song with a good sound and their heart wholly in it and it carried over into the audience and everyone felt it and everyone knew they felt it. It did help, incidentally, that this was close to the end of two intensive weeks of a non-stop love fest (see last entry) and that to see new sides of people we already knew carried an extra attraction.

Orff’s invitation to make powerful, beautiful and occasionally complex music with simple materials and elemental ideas is a gift beyond measure to music and music education. But that alone won’t carry you to the end of the matter. To be worthy of music’s difficulty, you have to tackle its complexity and put in the long hours of practice and occasionally dull practice. Virtuosity alone is not fully potent if not connected with the elemental Soul of Music, but the Elemental needs some wings. It’s the conversation between the two where genius lies.

And that’s what happened tonight. And a delightful conversation it was.

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