Have you ever been at a concert listening to some virtuoso artist backed by a major orchestra shred their way through some fast, technically involved music with elegance and ease, as if it is the easiest thing they have ever played? I think we all have! But don't you wonder how they do it? How do they play with such flawless virtuosity and make it all seem easy? Well, here's how, and NONE of it has to do with so called "talent"!
Although some people may claim that the most virtuosic artists connect with audiences because of their overwhelming amounts of innate talent, they are flat out wrong! Talent alone has nothing to do with it. Their persistent and dedicated work to the refinement of their fundamental skills on their instrument, in conjunction with informed and developed musical ideas is what has propelled their performance to such a high level of virtuosity. As my former saxophone professor Steven Banks was famous for saying, "We need to play in tune, play in time, with no fuzz, and no buzz". To this day, this quote resonates in my head every time I step into a practice room or onto a stage for a performance. In order to connect with audiences through virtuosity on our instruments, we must perform in such a way where mistakes in our performance are not a distraction to audiences, and do not detract from the performance. What do I mean by this? Consider this; have you ever been to a high school band performance where there is an errand squeak, squawk, or dropped pair of crash cymbals? YES! WE ALL HAVE! Now consider what reaction you have as a result of that sound. It is usually something along the lines of "Yikes! What was that?" In the world of high school band, a mistake like this is commonplace and accepted, as young musicians are learning their instruments. However, as professional performers, we have to do everything possible to not allow distractions from un-pure sounds, gaps in legato, and sloppy technique to jolt our audiences and give them the same reaction. Paying audiences want to be marveled by the virtuosity that is on the stage in front of them. They want to be engaged by your impressive playing, and distracted from the hum-drum of their lives. As soon as your fundamentals collapse and cause one of these feared squeaks, squawks, or biffed technical runs, audiences are jolted out of their amazement in your playing and begin to wonder "oof, what did I pay to see?"
So how do we protect against this? Simply put, through slow practice and refinement of our fundamental skills each and every day. In my own practice each day, the first 1-2 hours of playing that I do is focused on warming up and improving upon my fundamentals of playing with a round tone, even legato, clear articulation, and relaxed finger technique. Listed below are some of the areas that I focus on the most when practicing my fundamentals each day:
And then we get to the music... As I said before, we are only seeking to improve our fundamentals in order to create virtuosic playing that dazzles and engages audiences, rather than distract them with noticeable mistakes and imperfections. This is where etudes come into the picture. Although some etudes may not be the shining stars of beautiful musical material, they do serve a purpose! Etudes, much like scales, serve as the testing ground for all of the fundamentals that we practice each day. Etudes serve as a musical medium in which we combine our refined fundamental skills with informed musical and phrasing ideas to create one whole piece of music. Likewise, if we as musicians commit to recording our performance of etudes (or really even any repertoire) regularly, we have the unique opportunity to hear it from the audiences perspective, identify any weaknesses in fundamentals, and address them as we have previously talked about. Essentially, the loop we are talking about here is the cycle of continually refining our fundamentals, applying them in the music, identifying shortcomings, and then further refining the fundamentals.
Overtime, we are able to creating the awe inspiring virtuosic performances that we see from many of today's greatest musicians. It's all in the fundamentals! But just remember, even for these top performers, the refinement never stops...
If you are interested in a more detailed look at how to improve your fundamentals, please message me via my contact form at the end of this page or on social media to inquire about private lessons, either online or in-person. Remember, your first lesson is entirely free! Additionally, if something in this blog post connected with you, let me know in the comments. I would love to connect with you and answer any questions you may have!
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Why do we create music? I believe that this is a question that many musicians, including myself, often wrestle with throughout their careers. Many musicians often feel that they need to have one unwavering reason for why they create. However, after almost four years of conservatory training, I have come to think that there is truly no need for this to be true. Careers evolve, new experiences arise, available opportunities come and go, and the reasons for which we create music change as an adaptation to this changing landscape.
Personally, throughout my last four years of study at Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music, my reasons for making music have changed more times than I can count. Early in my undergraduate career, my reasons for creating were strictly focused on doing whatever I could to make a living. As a result, I was involved in a wide variety of creative projects, ensembles, and performed a wide range of music on multiple instruments, solely to build the experience necessary to create a career that would financially support me. After some time of embracing this mentality of "musical diversity", my standards changed, became higher, and I often felt as though I was spreading myself too thin to create a musical product that was at a high enough artistic level. Consequently, a change in 'Why I Create' was bound to occur...and it did. Over time, I found that my interests narrowed, in terms of musical styles that I performed, gigs that I took on, and creative projects that I took part in. As a result, my standards continued to increase, and my playing began to steadily inch closer to those higher standards as my more limited workload allowed me to commit more to the opportunities that I truly desired. Finally, I felt, I was nearing the reason for 'Why I Create'. Not quite...
As a result of being so focused on my own practice and performance, I lulled myself into thinking that music was always performer centered, with audiences sitting neatly in a concert hall, glued to the technical virtuosity that was taking place on stage. As I've recently discovered, this is far from the truth. In today's cultural landscape, classical music ensembles such as symphony orchestras, and chamber music collectives are struggling to maintain an audience with the standard symphonic repertoire of Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, and alike. Likewise, when these musical institutions attempt to jump to the other end of the spectrum and program new works of contemporary music, they struggle to attract an audience that enjoys and will pay to hear this style of music. As a classically trained musician that also frequently performs contemporary and new music, I have recently wrestled with how to perform both of the styles of music in conjunction in such a way that attracts, engages, and speaks to the modern audience. In searching for the way to accomplish this goal I found my 'Why I Create'.
I create to serve an audience through music. I create to connect to an audience, and for the audience to connect to one another. I create to lift audience members from the darkness that they may have in their lives, and give them a temporary moment of peace and tranquility in which they are engaged with music to the point where the rest of the world does not exist. This is why the title of this blog is Creating to Connect. I create to connect through the unique blending of classical and contemporary styles, the incorporation of multi-sensory artistic elements, through audience participation, and also through audience feedback. It is my goal to use this blog to share my experiences, my successes, and my failures in trying to connect the music I perform with modern audiences. It is also my hope that this blog will help to spawn a conversation about how we program music in the 21st century, and the place of music in our evolving culture.
If you are interested in this topic and would like to learn more please leave a comment, connect with me via social media, or contact me through my contact form. To stay up to date with future blog posts and performances, please also subscribe to my email list at the bottom of this page for more exciting information!
Andrew J. Buckley
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