Private Study Before Public Victory
Last time I laid out a rationale for the value of understanding and building nested hierarchy. We are applying here a high-level and substantive organizational principle that serves as a central tool for effective work. We started with “music” as our most junior element of the hierarchy and we move next to the emerging levels of “study” and “audiation.” But first, I digress.
Private Before Public
As a student, for many years and at several excellent institutions, and as a conductor, also for many years and in several capacities, I have observed that we director types often image our work as public before we see it as private. We focus immediately upon the public characteristics of rehearsal and performance before we dig in and pay the price of personal tooling. And this is at all levels of our professional development.
In practice rooms as young music students we struggled to reach the ring, for the jury or recital, when in fact understanding our inherited pedagogy, and setting muscle memory was much more of lasting importance. The old saw, “practice does not make perfect; it makes permanent,” comes to mind. Personal victory succumbed to public demands.
As young professionals we too often moved from one public event to another, rehearsal to rehearsal or performance to performance, church service to church service, influencing a successful and public Sunday while not sharpening our skills nor core principles during the same increments of time. And now as senior members of our profession we find ourselves, and far too often, tired and scorched at the edges, counting years or even days before retirement. I heard it once said that a particular person had not taught for twenty years, but rather for one year twenty times. That is a sure formula for burnout.
I suggest to you that placing a priority on public victory, in all of its forms and complexions, before clarifying personal principles, is in the wrong order. Without the continued hard work of musical study, and without informing our conducting gestures with strongly internalized messages resulting from that study, we have little chance of maintaining ourselves as efficient and effective.
“Private before public” is what Stephen Covey reiterates in his blockbuster book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey writes, “Effective interdependence can only be built on a foundation of true independence. There are no shortcuts, no way to parachute into this terrain.”
Private precedes public; algebra precedes calculus; atoms precede molecules; musical score precedes study. And study precedes “audiation.” These two junior elements precede their senior… gesture.
Study With a Strategy
So now we are back to our original parsing of the hierarchy. Study is senior to the musical score. But study too comes with a strategy. It is not efficient enough to open each score with the same study practice.
Each style, each individual composer, is better served by a different study procedure based upon historical and theoretical information. In each case the question to ask is, “what do I need to know about this piece in order to teach it most efficiently and responsibly?” The answer calls upon a long-term gathering of information from the canon of theory and performance practice. Surely our preparation of a Bach cantata is different from that of an anthem by Noël Goemanne.
While a renaissance motet requires our attention to point of imitation, “Come Sunday” by Duke Ellington is better served by its unique sonic world and stylistic parameters. Therefore, before diving head first into a study session we should prepare ourselves to study. We differentiate what we need to know, and then integrate these techniques into our learning. Basically each piece is different and requires a different strategy for learning.
Then, our study prepares us to “audiate,” simply the single-most essential skill to being a fine musician. From our careful immersion into the musical score we are able to bring internal meaning through audiation to the music before it becomes sound in the air.
According to Edwin Gordon, the famous music educator and originator of the word audiation, “sound itself is not music. Sound becomes music through audiation. Audiation occurs when musicians assimilate and generalize in the mind the sound of music they have just heard performed or have comprehended, also familiar or unfamiliar music they may or may not have heard, but are reading in notation, composing, or improvising. Aural perception happens when sound is heard in the moment it is produced. Sound becomes music and is audiated only after it is perceived aurally. Hearing is to perceive. Listening is to audiate.”
In other words, we really know our music when we can audiate it. And we must really know our music in order to subsequently inform our gestures as a conductor, as well as our tactile skills as singers and instrumentalists. Our hierarchy of “music” to “study” to “audiation” is on its way. And we are now poised to inform the next senior element of the hierarchy…. gesture.
To summarize, audiation is to music what syntax is to language. Audiation is more sophisticated than memory, more profound that remembering the next musical event or notion of sound. We audiate when we bring internal meaning to a sound yet to happen. And this process can only unfold when we know the music, when we have effectively studied the score.
In the next installment of this series I shall address “the gesture” and its inherent qualities, including “somatic sensory,” “proprioception,” and “haptic touch.” Have a productive month.
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