Saturday morning quotes 5.50: Intuition
“The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition. My parents had me study the violin from the time I was six. My new discovery is the result of musical perception.”
– Albert Einstein in correspondence with Shinichi Suzuki, 1969. “Nurtured by Love. A New Approach to Education”, p90).
As any informed person knows, the study of music is essential to the development of a creative, inquisitive and balanced mind. Study of the science of music requires the ability to apply the framework of hard numbers to the ephemeral realm of musical tones, and develops both logic and intuition. But in our increasingly austere global economic picture, music education is a forlorn hope—always the first victim when short-sighted bean counters begin their barbaric exercise in budget slashing. Sadly, it is particularly so in already underfunded schools that serve financially-challenged populations, further advancing the elitist rep of “classical” music as the playground of the well-off. But in a bit of irony, the more important skill of developing musical intuition is frequently overlooked in better funded music programs that are more focused on conventional classical music.
A distinguishing feature that separates “classical” musicians from the vast world of other musicians working with great distinction in many genres of music, is not technique but the skill of reading music. While sight-reading and intuitive musicianship need not be mutually exclusive skills, the technical ability to rapidly reproduce information in a musical score tends to force other important skills—like musical intuition—to take a back seat.
For those of us who first learned to play by ear and then learned to read music, the very idea of sight-reading skills taking precedence over intuitive musicianship is ludicrous. Musicianship is developed by learning nuance and detail by ear from recordings of great players and/or playing music by ear with other highly skilled players. Imagine any successful jazz or pop artist being judged by how well they read a score rather than their ability to compose, improvise and render sometimes stunningly complex music in an effective and entertaining manner from memory. We call score readers paper-trained musicians.
Since there are no surviving recordings of Josquin or John Dowland, effective interpretation of early music begins with reading the source material and gaining an understanding of archaic musical notation as an interpretive tool. But effective interpretation reaches perfection with a complete understanding of the details of ancient but enduring performance conventions that can only be gained by getting off the page and into the context of original performance styles; indulging in the risky give and take of informed instrumental improvisation and spontaneous vocal ornamentation.
Early music seems to be dominated by paper-trained musicians who might deliver clean and accurate performances, but frequently sound as though they are nearly quaking in mortal fear of getting it wrong. The trick is to spend enough time in a particular genre of music from a particular place and time period in order to absorb the musical conventions, and then learn to respond to a highly developed and informed musical intuition. Focus and commitment required.