Friday, August 3, 2012

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

      I hereby pledge to banish from my ever-dwindling vocabulary the poisonous verb “practice” (for my enormous British readership “practise”) with its connotations of mindless conditioning and habituation. And I encourage all of you to do the same when referring to the inspired, mysterious process of learning to play a musical instrument and of creating a vibrant musical performance*.
      Admit it, the p word reeks of juvenile musical instrument instruction. Yet creepily it remains the most common descriptor for preparatory work even amongst adult classical musicians. Many of us hold graduate degrees from institutions where we were assigned p***e rooms so that we could p***e on p***e pianos! Can you imagine artists describing their time in the studio as p***ing painting? Published authors and composers p***ing writing? We diminish ourselves and our craft with such a limited word.
     I don’t think the p word is particularly appropriate for young musicians, either. As any music teacher will tell you kids never f***ing  p***e anyway; the word is essentially utilized as a verbal flogging tool. Why haven’t you p***ed?  How many hours did you p***e? You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t learn how to p***e!  To make matters worse many teachers frame p***e for their young students in terms of rote repetition, mind-numbing exercises and slow tempo work, all of which are much more appropriate to experienced musicians who have learned how to place these useful techniques into a larger creative context. Budding musicians don’t need to be taught to p***e but rather to enjoy the utterly challenging processes of focusing their minds on musical values and personal expression and to operating the piece of wood and metal in their hands reasonably well. Yes, we may then have fewer competition winners (quelle trag├ędie!) but perhaps the future of classical music would begin to look a bit rosier. But I digress...
     We deserve our own term! One that doesn’t seem infantile or ooze negative energy? Comment away.

*I also recommend that you not eat at Chik-fil-A. Ever. I mean, their plain chicken sandwich is a whopping 30% fat, 1400 mg. of sodium and 42 grams of carbs, a sure-fire way to clog your arteries, not to mention the animal cruelty issue. I don’t want to see any of my socially conscious friends go down that way. Everyone else, dig in and please stay home on Election Day.


pamela Paul said...

ah. I never thought about the word, just always used it. Maybe sometimes I am "working", which encompasses many things, mostly but not always seated at the piano. But you are right in wanting to find a term that somehow sends the message of "process"....let alone experimentation or dreaming , The concept of sitting down at the instrument, daily, without regard to one's mood is important. Although if I sit there for the first 30 minutes and I don't get into a work rhythm, I advocate for myself and others that we GET UP and go do something else!

Elaine Fine said...

And the aim of p***e is to be p***ect, right?

We definitely need a larger and more explicit vocabulary: "learn," "play," "do," and "figure out" are words that come to mind. But they are still pretty weak.

Martin Perry said...

and maybe there is no one word...maybe just the desire to rid our working time of the mundane, including how we label it?