Issue 43: The story in the music

I find it can transform a performance if the player has some idea of the context and content of the piece of music. It is usually fairly easy for a beginner to interpret music from the romantic or modern periods. The title is often a Big Clue (Sad Dance, Reverie, Chinese Take-it-away). Baroque and classical pieces often make no sense at all to the younger children; sonatina, bourree, minuet do not supply any useful hints to the uninitiated. It is often helpful to describe the clothes that were worn, or find a picture from the period.

I always try and create some kind of story from the music.

A grade 1 “Andante” can become the soundtrack to a walk in the country side, with the phrases describing various incidents: opening phrase – arriving at the car park; rising scale – climbing a hill; modulation to the minor key – starting to rain; descending scale – making your way back; return to major key – remembering there is a packet of chocolate in the car.

Even at higher grades, students often seem to have no idea of how to “story-board” a piece, and the result can be like being machine-gunned by three pages of semiquavers, or listening to a long and boring poetry recital in a strange language – in other words just a barrage of meaningless noise. A grade 6 Vivaldi or Teleman “Allegro” is entirely transformed once it has become, say, a trip to a Paris fashion show (a fifteen-year-old, clothes conscious violinist); opening section – the tickets arrive, you learn that you have been chosen to go; second section (modulation through all sorts of keys) packing, choosing clothes, can’t decide what to take; return to the tune of the beginning section – setting off, getting closer and closer to Paris; Coda – arriving outside the show, getting off the coach and going inside. Now the piece makes sense to the young player, and therefore has some shape and sense of narrative in performance.

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