Something I had to learn, especially in the fellowship programs, was the difference between being a student and a "master" or professional. While I had performed with several orchestras before, that did not necessarily make me a professional, nor did my experience or knowledge gained by those performances. At Detroit, it was impressed upon me to make my own musical decisions, and showcase them in both rehearsal and especially in the performance. This was weird, because for years I was just regurgitating whatever was done historically, or in recordings, or whatever was on the page. I did have good instincts to fall back on, but I was not used to making conscious decisions about what I wanted to do with the music. This was a skill I had to develop and nurture, and having mentors, and asking myself questions about what I wanted was a huge step in that direction.
It's definitely a balance between the appropriate, historical, or performance practice options, and your own musical identity and preferences. Until you become knowledgeable and comfortable with your personal choices, or if you are not adequately informed about the music, there will be no balance. Studying music has become easier over the years, mainly because of the sometimes immediate access to information through many media sources, like Spotify, YouTube and IMSLP. Studying your musical identity might not be so obvious, and even though these may seem trivial, here's some things I asked myself to get me thinking about it.
- What type of sounds do I like to hear?
- What type of sound do I like to make?
- Put these sounds in order from favorite to least favorite: Warm, Dark, Bright, Light, Heavy
- Put these dynamics in order from favorite to least favorite: Loud, Soft, Medium, Medium Soft, Medium Loud
- What characteristics define the above items? (What makes a Dark or Loud sound? Be specific)
- What kind of music do I like?
- What kind of music do I dislike?
- What pieces move me emotionally?
Asking questions like these made me decide, or realize, and accept what my musical preferences were. Personally, I love warm sound qualities, like those of a clarinet, and extremely soft or loud dynamics. Knowing these tendencies informs me on what I'll be prone to do. Maybe I will play something too soft, or too loud for the hall I'm in. So, I will I have to be aware of that and adjust appropriately. It's very important to know yourself as well as you know the music that you play, so that you can make the necessary decisions and adjustments for said music.
One thing I am quickly learning as principal in Calgary, is that my musical identity is magnified because I am running a section. I have the opportunity to decide how every part will sound, literally catering it to fit my personal preferences. However, I choose not to do that, very often. I currently find that allowing the section to make their own decisions has rendered very interesting and positive outcomes that, had I told them to do a certain thing, would not have happened otherwise. In a way, our individual identities are influencing each others, just like in chamber music, or even in the orchestra itself, and being receptive to each others ideas improves us all. This is something that I really appreciated in Detroit and in Pittsburgh. I had the freedom to make decisions, good or bad, and if there was something that could'e worked better, we all communicated together about it and came up with a new idea. We all appreciated, admired and learned from our colleagues' musicality, and this is one thing I am very happy to see in the section here as well.
Making your own choices can be hard, especially if you've never done it to this degree, but even if the decision is not appropriate for that particular moment, own it. Mistakes happen, but the attempt is what really matters. It's what will nurture that sense of musical independence, and it's what will help you grow into a "master" of your craft. I am still getting used to being comfortable with my own musicality, because it is unique and sometimes very outrageous, but I continue to remind myself that, someone here in Calgary liked it, someone in Detroit and Pittsburgh liked it, and I really really like it. It's also important for me, and others, to stay open to new ideas in order to adapt and develop our musical identities, making us more mature and flexible musicians. I am constantly reminding myself to own and express my ideas, and I encourage you to do the same, no matter how outlandish they seem to be. Chances are, they aren't as crazy as you may think, but who will know unless you express them.