Analyzing Music for Performance

In this post, I will discuss my process of learning and analyzing music that I perform in the hope that it may be interesting for fellow musicians and music lovers to learn about the process behind what getting a piece ready for performance looks like “behind the scenes”, so to speak. There are many ways to do this; the process that I outline below is what currently works for me, and I don’t think there is any one “right” way to approach learning music. That being said, here is how I currently approach learning a new piece:

Before learning or even playing through a piece, I listen to it. Being a guitarist, I tend to first listen to a guitar rendition, listening for whether or not I like the piece, where the main sections are, any musical elements (melody, bass, recurring rhythmic figure, etc) that need to be brought out, and just try to get an overall idea of the musical essence of the piece. If the piece was originally written on another instrument, I will then listen to the piece on the original instrument. I find this to nearly always be enlightening, as the timbre, dynamics, and sometimes even notes may be differently played on the original instrument than on the guitar. This significantly broadens possibilities for interpretation. Sometimes there are additional aspects of a piece not written in the guitar arrangement that I will transcribe and incorporate into my version of the piece. On the other hand, sometimes it is physically impossible to play everything exactly as it is played on the original instrument, in which case I strive for a compromise that includes the most musically prominent parts while also being playable and musically viable on the guitar. Another listening exercise that I will often do is to listen to many interpretations of the piece while following along with the score, which allows me to get a better idea of the musical essence of the piece while helping me to think creatively about how I may choose to interpret the piece.

After listening to it enough that I have an approximate aural image of the piece, I will then start to learn the music, starting slowly, double checking that I’m playing the correct notes, and looking for patterns that I can hold onto later when I begin to memorize. I will often instinctively try to figure out what chords are being outlined, as this enhances my enjoyment of the piece, helps with memorization, and gives me ideas for future original compositions. Once this is done, I will then do a harmonic analysis (usually with pop chords, sometimes with roman numerals), and identify key musical elements such as sections, keys, phrases, cadences, and pedal tones. Because it can take a while for me to acquire an aural image of the piece, I tend to play each musical part (melody, bass, inner voices) separately, at first just listening, then humming or singing along. I find that this also deepens my awareness of each musical element, and renews my appreciation for the music that I am learning.

At this point, I will start to add dynamics. I begin by trying out the indications on the score, and making sure that these ideas make musical sense. Once these dynamics are internalized, I will experiment with adding my own dynamics, using the different tonal colors of the guitar (normal, ponticello, tasto, etc), and bringing out important musical lines. I will tend to bring out the musical lines that are either distinctive or interesting, and try not to bring out lines with repeating notes.

Once this is accomplished, I will begin memorizing the piece. I tend to alternate playing with the music and without the music, memorizing the music in small chunks and then gradually piecing these chunks together until I have memorized the entire piece. During this process, I strive to be aware of the melody and harmonic progressions, as these help me to memorize the music more quickly and thoroughly. When I reach a point (or have to reach a point due to having an upcoming concert in which I will be playing the given piece) where I can play the piece several times, beginning to end, with no mistakes, I will then add it to my repertoire and perform it as often as I can. As I perform the piece, I often find that my interpretation and overall manner of playing it evolves over time as I become more comfortable with the piece and continue to discover more aspects of the music.

I hope this overview of my process was somewhat helpful and/or interesting to read. What is your process for learning music (whether on guitar or another instrument)? I’d love to learn about your approach to this topic in the comments below!

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Granados’ Valses Poéticos: A Brief Historical Background

Perhaps best known for his piano suite Goyescas, Enrique Granados (1867-1916) was a pianist, composer, and music educator with a style firmly rooted in Spanish nationalism. Granados was born in Lèrida, Spain, studied piano and composition in Barcelona with Felipe Pedrell, and moved to Paris in 1887 to study piano with Charles de Bériot. Two years later, Granados returned to Barcelona, where he began a prolific career as a concert pianist, composer, and music educator. In 1901, Granados founded his own piano school, the Academia Granados, based on his teaching philosophy. Several prominent pianists attended the Academia Granados, most notably the Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha. As a composer, Granados wrote primarily for the piano, although he also composed songs, chamber music, and operas. His compositional style was heavily influenced by the music and culture of his native Spain. In 1914, Granados performed his piano suite Goyescas in Paris to great acclaim, which led to the Paris Opéra requesting that Granados compose an opera based on the composition. Granados accepted the request and collaborated with Fernando Periquet, who wrote the libretto. However, the events of World War I prevented the Paris Opéra from premiering this work. In 1916, the Metropolitan Opera premiered the opera, and Granados traveled to New York to assist with its production. The opera was met with an enthusiastic reception and much critical acclaim, although it never became an enduring part of the opera repertory. During his travels back to Europe, the ship he boarded was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the English Channel, resulting in the death of both Granados and his wife.

Valses Poéticos was originally written for piano, most likely between 1886-1894 (the exact date is not known). The work consists of eight short movements, including an Introduction and a Coda. Valses 1-4 were published in 1894 by Lustración Musical Hispano-Americana, and the remaining Valses were published by Casa Dostesio in 1900. All of the movements are in two-part form or three-part form. The Introduction is in 2/4 time and is played at a fast and lively tempo (Vivace molto), featuring a predominantly sixteenth note texture interspersed with staccato eighth notes that act primarily as transitions between the sections. As it’s tempo indication (Melodioso) suggests, Valse No. 1 features a beautifully lyrical melody in A Major, which is accompanied by a repeating pattern of arpeggiated chords. In the second section of the piece, the key changes to the parallel minor and the melody moves to the bass line before returning to the upper voice (and the original key) for a final statement of the main melody. Valse No. 2 (Tempo de Valse noble) is in F Major and has a noble yet expressive character. Valse No. 3 (Tempo de Valse lente) is in D minor, has a slow and memorable melody in the A section, which followed by a rhythmically contrasting B section in the parallel Major. Valse No. 4 (Allegro umoristico) is in Bb Major and, true to its tempo indication, is a bright, lively and somewhat humorous piece. Valse No. 5 (Allegretto (elegante) is in the same key as Valse No. 4. However, it is played at a moderate tempo that wonderfully showcases its gorgeous melody. Like Valses No. 1 and No. 3, it also modulates to a parallel key, though this time it changes key to the parallel minor in the B section. Valse No. 6 (Quasi ad libitum (sentimental) is a reflective and calm piece in F# minor. Valse No. 7 (Vivo) in A Major is a prodigious feat of technical capability, and Valse No. 8 (Coda: Presto) is in A Major and begins with rapid flights of melody and chromaticism before transforming into an exact repeat of Valse No. 1. Recurring elements in this work include a keen melodic sensibility, the use of two and three-part song form, and the utilization of parallel major and minor keys.

 

Graduate School

After approximately a year of preparation, research, learning repertoire, visiting colleges, taking the GRE (which is a total bullshit moneymaking scam, by the way-more on this later), and filling out multitudes of forms, the results are in. I will be attending the M.A. in Music program with a concentration in Music Theory and Music History at Hunter College this fall!

When I finished my undergraduate studies last May, I had this gut feeling that this was the one time in my life where the sky was the limit and I could try to get in to some amazing colleges for graduate school. So that’s what I did. I aimed high, applying to Yale, Juilliard, Columbia, The CUNY Graduate Center, and Hunter College. I knew that all of these schools are difficult to get into and that there was a very real possibility that I wouldn’t get accepted to any of them, but for some reason, in my mind, I just had to try and see what happened.

While I did have some fears about this process, rejection wasn’t one of them. As a musician, I’m used to being rejected. It happens…a lot. Most of the time, venues and other music-related jobs don’t even bother to let me know: I just never hear from them, or suddenly never hear from them again (huge props to the people who do let me know-it really is very much appreciated!). Anyone who is a fellow musician, writer, artist, or creative professional knows what I’m talking about. After a while, you realize that it’s not personal; it’s just part of the job. This experience proved to be an asset, as it helped a lot with keeping things in perspective throughout the application process and making an informed and carefully considered decision.

I wasn’t sure what to major in. I love playing classical guitar, and I also love studying music theory, music history, teaching music, and reading lots of good books about almost any topic of interest. As a result, I figured that I would apply to both performance and non-performance based programs in music, prepare as best as I could, and see what happens. My ultimate reason for applying to graduate school is that it is a credential that will put me one step closer to my long-term goal of being a music professor. That being said, I also believe in keeping my options open and strive to view the future in a way that is simultaneously both highly focused and reasonably broad. In short, this was a year in transition. I spent the year working to grow my career as a performer and music educator, and, of course, getting ready for applying to graduate school. For the first time since I began playing music, I was not taking classes or lessons, and I reveled in this newfound freedom, especially with regards to playing classical guitar. I started playing classical guitar to attend an undergraduate program in guitar performance, and as a result have never been able to choose which pieces to work on. I am very grateful for the excellent formal training that I received, and it is because of this training that I am able to choose repertoire that is both inspiring and challenging. However, I love getting to choose my repertoire for the first time, without having to worry about grades, juries, or other academic deadlines.

For the combined M.A./Ph.D. programs, I needed to take the GRE. I bought a test prep book and taught myself by going through the book, focusing on the topics that I struggled most with (such as math), and watching lots of Kahn Academy videos (Kahn Academy is AWESOME! Highly recommended!). I had read about a lot of test center nightmare stories online, so I researched the test centers extensively before signing up, and had a great experience at the one in Purchase, NY-the people there were very professional, kind, and fair. I have a lot of choice words about the GRE, but before I begin my tirade, I would like to point out that the GRE does do one thing reasonably well: it does a good job of measuring your abilities on the subjects that are on the GRE, and only on the subjects that are on the GRE. Predictably, I scored well on the topics that I am generally good at, and did not score as well for the topics that I am not generally good at. It also forced me to learn some basic skills that I had previously not thoroughly learned. Both good things, as far as it goes.

That being said, there are many things wrong with the GRE. First of all, it’s too expensive. It costs $205 just to take the test, the average test prep book is about $50, and if you want to be super prepared and sign up for tutoring, you can spend thousands on preparing for this test. Also, you can take the test multiple times, but you have to pay for the test again for each retake. Sounds like a nice way for ETS to make a hell of a lot of money off of our societal obsession with test scores. This is a marketing strategy that clearly favors people who are wealthy or have wealthy parents, and is a huge disadvantage for those of us (read: most of us) who are not wealthy or have wealthy parents. In addition, the steep cost discourages some very intelligent people from applying to graduate school.

It’s also a huge time suck. Like any other big test, the GRE takes a long time to adequately prepare for, which adds a lot to the time spent preparing for graduate school applications. It’s yet another requirement to prepare for, except unlike most of the requirements (which actually for the most part make sense and relate to your field of study), it is questionable how much my performance on a test which does not cover music or related fields actually demonstrates my readiness (or lack thereof) for graduate school in the field of music. This is also true for other non-STEM majors. Because of these reasons, I recommend that colleges and states stop requiring the GRE as an admissions requirement for graduate school. I realize that I am a comparative nobody in the field of education policy, but I sincerely and firmly believe that it is important to critically think about the way things are, express our views in a reasonable manner, and expound on ways to make things better, or, in this case, reasons to eschew the given thing altogether.

One of the upsides of applying to graduate programs in both performance and non-performance fields was that I learned a lot about multiple disciplines of music. I learned some beautiful and timeless classical guitar repertoire (some of which I’ve discussed on this blog), reviewed and expanded my music theory knowledge, and as a result became a more intelligent and well-rounded musician and person. I applied to the guitar performance programs at Yale and Juilliard; the musicology programs at Columbia and The Graduate Center, CUNY; and the music theory program at Hunter College.

One of the highlights of this journey was making it to the audition round at Juilliard. The audition was located in a music studio room at Juilliard, and consisted of playing for Sharon Isbin. You know, the same Sharon Isbin that has performed with Sting and Billy Joel, has played at The White House, and is an astoundingly incredible guitarist. It was one of the most nerve-wracking 15 minutes of my life. I was asked to choose my first piece, so I chose Variations Mignonnes by Mertz. There were a couple of small mistakes, but I feel that I played it well overall. Then Mrs. Isbin asked me to play what was (for me) the most difficult piece in the audition repertoire: the final movement of Walton’s Five Bagatelles. I stumbled through it as best as I could; there were some good moments, but many mistakes. I was relieved to have finished the piece with no memory slips. As you might have guessed, I didn’t get in to Juilliard, but will never forget that audition.

For Hunter College’s M.A. program, I was required to take a test in music theory and ear training. As I had expected, I did well in the theory portion of the test, but not as well in the ear training section. I wasn’t sure if I would get in. However, I was very happy to receive an email stating that I had been accepted, and would I be interested in a mixed concentration in either music theory and performance or music theory and music history? I appreciate Hunter’s emphasis on a holistic and multidisciplinary approach to the study and analysis of music, the option to choose a mixed concentration, the kindness of the students and faculty, and the reasonable tuition costs. I knew right away that Hunter would be a great fit. I chose a mixed concentration in music theory and music history, as I am passionate about both fields and would like to further my knowledge in order to strengthen my musical and academic background, facilitate my long-term career goal of working as a university professor, and become better equipped to advocate for the classical guitar as a legitimate classical instrument. I said yes to the offer of admission, and am very much looking forward to attending graduate school this fall!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Musician’s Observations on Learning to Create Your Own Website

It was one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2019. I would finally have my own website. At first, I thought I would hire a website developer. It seemed like a good idea. That is, until I started pricing it out. I quickly realized that this prospect was beyond what I could afford, and after much deliberation and research and planning, I decided that I would try to do it myself. I figured it would be a good learning experience, and at least I could say that I tried. To be honest, even the thought of making my own website filled me with fear. Specifically, the fear of spending lots of time on it, only to make one wrong click and watch my website fade away into oblivion. Because of this (mostly unfounded) initial fear, I have decided to write a post on this topic (even though it doesn’t have much to do with analyzing classical guitar music) in order to encourage my fellow musicians that you absolutely CAN make your own website! It is truly amazing what can be done if you do a little bit often and start with an approximate vision of what you want! I have found that building a website uses many of the same skills necessary to be a musician and is much less overwhelming than it seems if you do a little bit at a time.

Although I do have some prior experience doing web-based projects, this would be the first time that I would attempt to single-handedly build a website from scratch. Like most things worth doing, it was simultaneously more and less difficult than I originally imagined. Seemingly simple tasks such as setting up a contact page ended up taking many hours of trying an idea and thinking that it worked, only to test it and find out that it didn’t work at all, and repeating the process until I found a solution. On the other hand, the process of changing basic elements of the site (like adding/editing items on the main menu) was surprisingly easy. During the course of creating my own site, I learned a lot about WordPress, web hosting, and significantly improved my skills with HTML and CSS.

I started by looking at other music and/or creative arts websites to help me figure out what I wanted my website to look like and what I wanted my website to do. I made a visual sketch of each site, which helped a lot. Once I had an approximate idea of the look and feel I was going for (and made a sketch of my vision for my site), I researched and compared different web hosts and content management systems for a couple of weeks, eventually choosing Siteground for web hosting and buying a domain name, and WordPress as the CMS (content management system). Once this was set up, I had to decide on a theme for my site. After looking at lots of different themes, I chose to use the Genesis Framework and Workstation Pro child theme by Studiopress, because it seemed to be the most high-quality and dependable theme that fit with my vision. It did add to the cost of making a site (the Genesis Framework and child theme cost around $100), but the theme was (in my opinion) so much better than any of the free themes that I saw on WordPress. Using Studiopress was, hands down, the best decision I made during the course of creating my site! The theme works great, the support at Studiopress is amazing, and it made my site work so much better overall in terms of design, responsiveness, and aesthetic appeal. To add music, photos, and other necessary features, I used either widgets, widget shortcode, plugins, or HTML code. Ironically, I used HTML mainly to format my resume, which I thought (very wrongly) would be a simple copy/paste endeavor, and to add special effects. I tried my best to be as organized as possible, because I know that I can easily spend way too much time mulling over options and not enough time actually building a site.

I also want to emphasize that no one learns something new entirely on their own, and my foray into website design was no exception. I read books on website design (my favorite books on this topic are “Wordpress to Go” by Sarah McHarry and the two book HTML & CSS and Javascript and jQuery set by Jon Duckett), googled nearly every problem I came across, contacted the support team of Studiopress, and looked on many forums (which I found especially helpful if the problem involved code). In fact, it was similar (in some ways) to learning an instrument. You start with no idea what you are doing, you listen, read, and study those who do know what they are doing, and gradually learn new skills along the way as needed in order to accomplish your vision.

All of this is to say that I am very happy to announce that I have successfully created my own website! I started working on the site in late January, added the theme (Genesis Framework, Workstation Pro child theme) and essential components throughout February/early March, and added the finishing touches earlier this week. The website showcases my music, teaching, writing, blog, upcoming gigs, and much more. Please feel free to check it out and spread the word!!! See the link below to take a look: https://benguitarmusic.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Bagatelles by William Walton

The story of William Walton’s Five Bagatelles is one of collaboration, transformation, and assimilation. Like many composers whose works have become a part of the contemporary classical guitar repertory, Walton did not play guitar. Walton’s Five Bagatelles was commissioned and written in collaboration with the world-renowned guitarist, Julian Bream in 1971. Bream went on to give the first performance of the Five Bagatelles at the Bath Festival in Bath, England in 1972, and was the first to record this work.

Walton later reworked the music of the Five Bagatelles for solo piano, and “Varii Cappricci”, a suite for orchestra. In this way, the evolution of the Five Bagatelles contrasts with that of most guitar works written by a composer who did not play guitar. In many cases, a composition will originally have been written for another instrument (such as piano or lute, for instance), and later transcribed for the guitar by a guitarist. Here, however, we see the exact opposite historical progression. The Five Bagatelles were  written for guitar and then transcribed for solo piano, and orchestra, by the composer himself. Ironically, Walton later seemed to forget that he originally wrote the Five Bagatelles for guitar (see the last few seconds of the following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=217&v=Wk4RsE7VJ7I).

The musical character of the work features an artful assimilation of modern and traditional classical music influences, which is a cornerstone of Walton’s compositional style. In this work, Walton blends lyrical melodies with dissonant and extended harmonies, unexpected musical detours, recurring rhythmic and melodic figures, and guitaristic techniques such as tambora, plucked harmonics, and rasgueado. Although the word ‘bagatelle’ typically refers to a short, light piece of music, each bagatelle in this work possesses a distinct feel. As professor, composer, and writer Phillip Cooke notes in his blog post on the Five Bagatelles (http://www.phillipcooke.com/on-william-waltons-five-bagatelles/) , “The five different bagatelles each capture a different mood from the relentlessly upbeat first, the languid second, the smoky, seductive third, the dreamy fourth and the frantic finale.”

 

 

 

The Bach Cello Suites: A Brief Historical Background

J.S. Bach’s Six Cello Suites have been studied, performed, and recorded by countless musicians (including classical guitarists). They have become a fixture of the classical music repertoire. The Cello Suites have even made their way into contemporary mainstream culture via television performances, movies, videos, and radio. Most people have at least heard the opening notes of the Prelude to the first Cello Suite. As a result, their place in musical history appears to be exceedingly secure.

However, although the Cello Suites were composed approximately three centuries ago, there is much that is not known about this iconic composition.

First of all, the original manuscript is lost. Because of this development, we are left with many questions concerning the composition of the Cello Suites. We don’t know the exact date that they were composed, or what tempo, dynamics, or even instrumentation Bach intended for each movement. In other words, the Cello Suites could have been originally written for another string instrument! (see this fascinating article: http://www.pauldwyer.net/blog/so-what-instrument-were-these-cello-suites-written-for).

The earliest surviving manuscript of the Cello Suites was penned by Bach’s second wife, Anna Magdalena Bach between 1727 and 1731, and is the source for most of what we know about the Cello Suites today. Interestingly, this manuscript was not written for a cellist. Instead, it was intended for violinist Georg Heinrich Ludwig Schwanenberger. Three other early manuscripts survive: one by J. Peter Kellner from the early-mid 1700’s, another by two unknown authors from the mid 1700’s, and yet another by an unknown author from the late 1700’s (all of these manuscripts can be viewed here: https://www.jsbachcellosuites.com/score.html#9WJNcwhn).

Most of the Cello Suites were written around 1720, while Bach worked as Kapellmeister (Court Music Director) for Prince Leopold in Cöthen. During his time in Cöthen, Bach mainly wrote instrumental music for soloists or ensembles, and this output included six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, the six Cello Suites, and a Partita for solo Flute. Although nowadays pieces of music written for solo instruments are relatively common, in Bach’s time, it was quite unusual for music to be written for a solo instrument. This convention especially applied to a lower-pitched instrument such as the cello, which had previously been viewed as an accompaniment instrument. While Bach was not the first composer to write music for a solo instrument, his contribution to the cello repertoire was highly unusual at the time, and ultimately transformed the public’s perception of the capabilities and limitations of the cello. One of the most remarkable aspects of Bach’s compositions for solo instruments is that they tend to sound as if they are played by more than one instrument. Despite the cello’s inability to play full chords, Bach makes clever use of double stops, arpeggios, and alternating musical registers to create the illusion of harmony. The listener mentally “fills in” the remaining harmony notes without realizing that they are missing. As a result, the Cello Suites sound full and deeply resonant, even though they are played by a single instrument.

Bach used the dance suite form for the Cello Suites, and each Suite consists of six movements. Every suite begins with a Prelude, which tends to be dramatic, improvisatory, and full of character. This is followed by the Allemande, an elegant dance movement that was popularly performed but not often danced to during Bach’s time. After the Allemande comes the Courante, an upbeat dance of which there are two main types: the French Courante or the Italian Corrente. Bach usually used the Italian version in the Cello suites. The fourth movement consists of a Sarabande, which was originally a passionate and sultry Iberian dance, but by Bach’s time mellowed to a slow, longing character that was influenced by its use in French courts. The fifth movement is either a Minuet, Gavotte, or Bourrée, all of which possess a memorable, melodic, and generally joyful aesthetic. Lastly, all of the suites conclude with a Gigue, an animated and up-tempo dance movement with a big personality.

Bach (or his Cello Suites) were never famous in his lifetime. Before Pablo Casals’ groundbreaking recording of the Cello Suites in 1938, the Cello Suites were viewed as musically dry pedagogical studies. In fact, if Casals had not stumbled upon this work at a music shop in Barcelona as a teenager, the Cello Suites might still be shrouded in the dimly lit hall of musical obscurity. In the decades following Casals’ recording, multitudes of incredible cellists, violinists, violists, classical guitarists, and other instrumentalists have performed, recorded, and spread the word about the inimitable beauty and staying power of Bach’s Cello Suites.

Some cool resources: https://www.classicfm.com/composers/bach/music/cello-suites/, http://theconversation.com/decoding-the-music-masterpieces-bachs-six-solo-cello-suites-83797, https://www.amazon.com/Cello-Suites-Casals-Baroque-Masterpiece/dp/0802145248, https://books.wwnorton.com/books/webad.aspx?id=4294977603,

Last Post of 2018

As 2018 winds down, I thought I’d reflect a bit on the past year. This year, I graduated from college, taught music lessons at a local music school and privately, and performed at Cafes, Farmers Markets, Churches, and other venues throughout New York and New Jersey. I also started this blog, and have greatly enjoyed writing about my artistic journey, sharing my insights with fellow bloggers, and discovering some wonderful and thought-provoking blogs in the process. In 2019, I will continue to perform, teach, and write about music, and may be starting graduate school in the Fall of this coming year. I’m also looking forward to blogging about my favorite classical guitar pieces, as well as ideas and issues that are relevant to myself and the wider musical and artistic community.

I also would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to visit, follow, or comment on this blog. When I began Classical Guitar Analysis this May, I wasn’t sure if anyone would bother to read my somewhat technical and academic analyses of classical guitar music. I was pleasantly surprised, and am very grateful to each and every one of you for your interest in this blog-it is very much appreciated! Wishing you a happy, healthy, and all-around fantastic New Year!

I will end my last blog post of 2018 with perhaps my favorite New Year’s quote of all time:

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

-Neil Gaiman

Reading the Score

Despite my best efforts to read the score as I practice, it can be very easy for me to get so fixated on the notes that I forget to look at the other indications written on the music. Because of this tendency, I decided to spend some time reading everything written on all the music in my repertoire and looking up any term or indication that I didn’t understand. Even though I’ve done this before, I was pleasantly surprised how helpful it was to learn the meaning of indications on the score. It transforms your relationship with the pieces that you are working on, helps immensely with interpretation, improves your overall knowledge of music, and you even learn some phrases in Italian, Spanish, German, French, and other languages! See below for some of the musical terms (in no particular order) that I found and their approximate definitions-some are common and quite obvious, while others are a bit more obscure.

Maestoso: majestically

Leggiero: lightly

Andante: relaxed, moderate tempo (around 64-72 bpm)

Espressivo: expressively

Diminuendo: gradual decrease of volume

Con moto: with motion

Rallentando: gradual slowing down

Poco: a little

Subito: suddenly

Tranquillamente: quietly

Dolce e calmo: sweetly and quietly

Un poco mosso: less motion/slower tempo

Gallardo: elegantly

Cantado: in a singing/lyrical style

Pesante: heavy, important, pondering

Cediando: more relaxed

Allegro: fast, lively

Gallardamente: in a brave or heroic manner

Prelude: beginning of a work, improvisation written down

Allemande: German dance in 4/4, moderate tempo, flowing, polyphonic, starts on upbeat

Courante: Lively French dance in 3/4, starts on a pickup note

Sarabande: slow and stately Spanish dance in 3/4, starts on downbeat

Bourrée: French dance, lively, each phrase starts on the downbeat of 4

Gigue: fast English and Irish dance with imitation and wide skips

Vivace Molto: very lively, faster than Allegro

Meno Molto: less motion

Con cadenza: with ornaments or freely

Molto: much, very

Rubato: slight speeding up and slowing down of tempo, means “stolen time” in Italian

Poco Piu Mosso: a little more quickly

Allegro unmoristico: humorous allegro

Ritmico: rhythmically

Quasi ad libitum: at your pleasure

Tenuto: sustain for longer than written

Vivace: lively and fast

I’istesso mov.: same tempo

Sempre: consistent

A piacere: at the discretion of the performer

Marcato: louder

Con slancio: with enthusiasm

Marcatiss.: very strong accent

Sforzando (sf, sfz): sudden accent

Assai: very

Piùten: more tenuto

El bajo un poco marcado: the bass a little marked (accented)

Ad libitum: at your pleasure

Allargando: to broaden or play slightly lower

Piú mosso: more quickly

Poco meno: a little less quickly

Poco a poco: gradually, literally “little by little”

Senza: without

Vivo: lively, animated, brisk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artistic Integrity

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the concept of artistic integrity. What does it mean for an artist (or musician, writer, painter, illustrator, etc) to have artistic integrity? Is it a relatively black and white concept (like integrity), is it more subjective (like art), or is it something in between? What about the dilemma of how far an artist will or should go in order to please an audience and sustain a career? As a result of asking these questions and doing some reading and thinking, I thought I would compile some of my ideas on this topic in the hope of better defining what this concept means for me, as well as to share some of what I have learned along the way.

To possess artistic integrity is to embrace the contradiction between exquisite detail and boundless freedom. As a classical guitarist, I spend countless hours practicing and refining my technique with the goal of transcending technique. In my interpretations, I dedicate myself to learning about the composer, period, and style, while also assimilating my own musical ideas into the rich and highly textured fabric of musical influences present in a given piece. Classical musicians, like artists, walk a tightrope between respecting the traditions of the past and utilizing their individual musical aesthetic to create a body of work that is firmly grounded yet unmistakably original. In my live performances and teaching, I strive to share the fruits of my work and communicate the passion, love, and inspiration that I feel as a result of playing the classical guitar. For me, this involves performing and teaching music that I deeply enjoy, as well as discussing relevant background information about the music in a way that is both engaging and educational. It is vitally important to be true to myself, aware of my strengths and weaknesses, and to conduct myself in a manner that is professional, ethical, and morally sound. It is of the utmost importance to listen to my moral compass, artistic intuition, and common sense to make the choices that are right for my artistic journey. As a musician, I am continuously grateful that my chosen occupation involves bringing joy and beauty to others through the music that I perform, teach, and write about. In order to do this, it is crucial for me to cultivate my love of music, appreciation for beauty, and desire to learn more about music and other topics of interest. One of the wider reaching implications of being a musician with artistic integrity is that your work is not just a career. Instead, it is an all-encompassing lifestyle in which living, learning, and creating are interconnected.

Ultimately, artistic integrity, both for myself and the art form of music as a whole seems predicated on one word: balance. To be a musician requires being exacting yet expressive; learning from the past while developing your unique voice; keeping an open mind but staying true to your core principles; having the tenacity to devote extended amounts of time to something that does not always compute according to the standards of the world, and the courage to spread the word about your music. Although musicians perform for audiences and depend on pleasing their audience in order to sustain a career, a musician that has artistic integrity will not change the essence of their work for the sake of his or her listeners. Paradoxically, this commitment to strong artistic principles is often what attracts the audience in the first place.

To have artistic integrity, it is necessary for a musician to be able to work towards opposing ideas while also firmly maintaining their moral and artistic principles. To be artistic generally refers to the skill of possessing creativity or a refined sense of aesthetics, while being a person of integrity presupposes the character traits of honesty and moral uprightness. Thus, the concept of artistic integrity nicely illustrates the need for balancing an open mind with the establishment of clear boundaries. Musicians, like all people, should strive to be good, honest, and ethical people who prioritize upholding their values in every aspect of their lives, including in their art.

As you can see, I haven’t yet been able to settle on one particular definition. Instead, I attempted to outline some of the conclusions that I have reached in my exploration of the concept of artistic integrity. It is a truly fascinating topic, and writing about it has both solidified my understanding of the concept and also left me with more questions. I would love to hear your thoughts on this broad, intriguing, and important topic-how do you define artistic integrity for yourself and/or your work?

 

 

Prelude #6 by Manuel Ponce

Prelude No. 6 is the last prelude to be analyzed in this six part series on Manuel Ponce’s Preludes. It is my favorite of Ponce’s first 6 Preludes because of its beautiful melody, intriguing musical structure, and cohesive sound despite not being written in a song form. Like Prelude No. 5, Prelude No. 6 is in 2/4, combines modern music, Mexican folk music, and impressionist influences to create a sublime musical whole. The piece primarily uses an 8th note texture and utilizes auxiliary components (a simple introduction from mm 1-3 and a Coda from mm 34-40) but does not follow any traditional song form. Instead, the form of the piece is suggested by the melodic contour of each phrase. The entire composition seems to be derived from the first phrase (mm 4-8) after the introduction, as each subsequent phrase possesses a similar (and at times identical) melodic contour as the first phrase. In addition, this piece is the only one of the 6 Preludes to feature bitonality. The accompaniment is in the tonal center of A major, but the melody is in the key of D minor.

An A pedal tone is present throughout, and the accompaniment acts as a drone that supports the melody, although colorful impressionist harmonies are also present. A change of voice occurs in mm 21-24, in which the melody is played in the bass and middle voices, and a tone color change occurs in mm 29-33, in which the right hand plucks the strings towards the bridge of the instrument, creating a ponticello effect. The Coda consists of cadential material derived from the last two measures of the final phrase before the coda begins, and the piece both begins and ends on the same voicing of an A major chord.

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Overview of 6 Preludes and Conclusion

Manuel Ponce and Andres Segovia’s 6 Preludes reflect the wide reaching influences of their composer, making use of elements from Mexican and Spanish folk music, 20th century music, the impressionist music of Debussy and Ravel, and the unique characteristics of the guitar. The irregular phrases that occur throughout the work and the relatively small pitch range and lyricism of the melodies are elements from Mexican and Spanish folk music. The 20th century music influence can be seen most clearly in Prelude No. 3 and Prelude No. 6, neither of which ascribe to a traditional song form. In addition, Prelude No. 3 uses pantonality and Prelude No. 6 uses bitonality, two primarily 20th century harmonic concepts. The impressionist influence can be seen throughout the work in the often unusual and extended harmonies chosen for the accompaniment. The profound dynamic and tone color changes in Preludes 1, 2, 4, and 6, the change of voice in the melodies of Preludes No. 1 and No. 6, the use of harmonics in Prelude No. 2, and the use of open strings in Preludes 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 are all notable examples of Ponce and Segovia’s exploitation of the musical potential of the guitar. This extraordinary synthesis of styles and compositional approaches demonstrates Segovia and Ponce’s virtuosic skills, creativity, and commitment to musical excellence.

Some Cool Resources

Hope you enjoyed this mini-series on Ponce’s 6 Preludes! If you would like to learn more about Ponce, Segovia, the 6 Preludes, or any related topics, I highly recommend checking out the following resources:

“A History of Western Music” (somewhat pricy but an excellent and comprehensive resource for any music-related research) http://books.wwnorton.com/books/webad.aspx?id=4294977603

“The Influence of Folk Music in Guitar Compositions by Manuel Ponce” by Arnoldo Garcia Santos. Absolutely fascinating dissertation on how folk music influenced Ponce’s compositional style!

“The Classical Guitar in Paris: Composers and Performers c. 1920-1960” by Duncan Robert Gardiner. Excellent thesis on the leading guitarists and composers in Paris working during the mid 20th century!

“Preludes (24) for Guitar” by Blair Johnston. Brief yet very informative overview of Ponce and Segovia’s Preludes. https://www.allmusic.com/composition/preludes-24-for-guitar-mc0002462700

“The Segovia-Ponce Letters” by Andres Segovia and Manuel Ponce. Fascinating book that is a great window into Segovia’s collaboration with many notable composers, including Manuel Ponce. https://www.amazon.com/Segovia-Ponce-Letters-English-Spanish/dp/0936186291