Lyrics & Knowledge Personal Pages Record Shop Auction Links Radio & Media Kids Membership Help
The Mudcat Cafemuddy

Post to this Thread - Sort Descending - Printer Friendly - Home


Classical Training

Thomas the Rhymer 02 Jul 03 - 09:44 AM
GUEST,MMario 02 Jul 03 - 09:46 AM
Deckman 02 Jul 03 - 10:11 AM
alanabit 02 Jul 03 - 10:13 AM
Kim C 02 Jul 03 - 10:27 AM
Deckman 02 Jul 03 - 10:32 AM
GUEST,Martin Gibson 02 Jul 03 - 12:25 PM
alanabit 02 Jul 03 - 12:34 PM
GUEST,emily b 02 Jul 03 - 12:43 PM
Kim C 02 Jul 03 - 12:44 PM
Deckman 02 Jul 03 - 12:47 PM
GUEST,Q 02 Jul 03 - 01:57 PM
GUEST,Martin Gibson 02 Jul 03 - 02:07 PM
Kim C 02 Jul 03 - 03:05 PM
GUEST 02 Jul 03 - 05:08 PM
GUEST,Russ 02 Jul 03 - 08:19 PM
Deckman 02 Jul 03 - 08:38 PM
Thomas the Rhymer 03 Jul 03 - 11:17 AM
*daylia* 03 Jul 03 - 12:38 PM
Strick 03 Jul 03 - 12:45 PM
Kim C 03 Jul 03 - 01:11 PM
*daylia* 03 Jul 03 - 03:53 PM
Deckman 03 Jul 03 - 03:59 PM
katlaughing 03 Jul 03 - 04:12 PM
Deckman 03 Jul 03 - 04:28 PM
Mudlark 03 Jul 03 - 05:29 PM
Deckman 03 Jul 03 - 05:58 PM
Don Firth 03 Jul 03 - 06:05 PM
Deckman 03 Jul 03 - 06:20 PM
Bev and Jerry 03 Jul 03 - 07:11 PM
Frankham 03 Jul 03 - 07:30 PM
katlaughing 03 Jul 03 - 07:36 PM
Deckman 03 Jul 03 - 07:37 PM
Bassic 03 Jul 03 - 08:41 PM
Deckman 03 Jul 03 - 08:43 PM
Jim Dixon 03 Jul 03 - 08:54 PM
Benjamin 03 Jul 03 - 09:17 PM
hesperis 03 Jul 03 - 09:20 PM
*daylia* 03 Jul 03 - 09:51 PM
Stewart 03 Jul 03 - 10:27 PM
Don Firth 03 Jul 03 - 10:34 PM
Jim Dixon 03 Jul 03 - 10:35 PM
*daylia* 03 Jul 03 - 11:49 PM
Deckman 04 Jul 03 - 12:30 AM
Deckman 04 Jul 03 - 01:24 AM
Jim Dixon 04 Jul 03 - 03:27 AM
*daylia* 04 Jul 03 - 10:55 AM
Peterr 04 Jul 03 - 11:41 AM
GUEST,Russ 04 Jul 03 - 11:49 AM
Jim Dixon 04 Jul 03 - 12:02 PM
katlaughing 04 Jul 03 - 01:14 PM
*daylia* 04 Jul 03 - 02:38 PM
GUEST,Tunesmith 04 Jul 03 - 04:12 PM
Don Firth 04 Jul 03 - 04:54 PM
Frankham 04 Jul 03 - 07:47 PM
Deckman 04 Jul 03 - 09:09 PM
GUEST,Guest-Marthabees 05 Jul 03 - 01:01 AM
Don Firth 05 Jul 03 - 02:04 AM
GUEST,Russ 05 Jul 03 - 10:37 AM
John P 05 Jul 03 - 11:18 AM
GUEST,Kim C no cookie 05 Jul 03 - 08:51 PM
*daylia* 06 Jul 03 - 03:24 PM
Deckman 06 Jul 03 - 04:48 PM
GUEST,marthabees 06 Jul 03 - 05:06 PM
Deckman 06 Jul 03 - 05:25 PM
Frankham 06 Jul 03 - 05:28 PM
Jim Dixon 06 Jul 03 - 05:58 PM
GUEST,Russ 06 Jul 03 - 07:01 PM
GUEST 06 Jul 03 - 07:46 PM
Deckman 06 Jul 03 - 08:39 PM
Jim Dixon 06 Jul 03 - 08:49 PM
GUEST 06 Jul 03 - 11:50 PM
GUEST,Dustin 07 Jul 03 - 04:32 AM
Don Firth 07 Jul 03 - 01:25 PM
Thomas the Rhymer 07 Jul 03 - 03:23 PM
katlaughing 07 Jul 03 - 04:59 PM
*daylia* 07 Jul 03 - 05:53 PM
Deckman 07 Jul 03 - 06:15 PM
Don Firth 07 Jul 03 - 06:37 PM
*daylia* 07 Jul 03 - 06:48 PM
Jim Dixon 07 Jul 03 - 06:58 PM
GUEST,Russ 07 Jul 03 - 08:26 PM
Thomas the Rhymer 07 Jul 03 - 08:56 PM
Stewart 07 Jul 03 - 11:17 PM
Thomas the Rhymer 08 Jul 03 - 12:26 AM
John P 08 Jul 03 - 10:26 AM
Thomas the Rhymer 08 Jul 03 - 11:08 AM
*daylia* 08 Jul 03 - 12:59 PM
hesperis 08 Jul 03 - 02:27 PM
greg stephens 08 Jul 03 - 03:05 PM
Jen M 08 Jul 03 - 04:58 PM
Don Firth 08 Jul 03 - 08:22 PM
Deckman 08 Jul 03 - 09:43 PM
Mark Clark 09 Jul 03 - 01:29 AM
GUEST,Russ 09 Jul 03 - 09:42 AM
GUEST,Dustin 09 Jul 03 - 12:48 PM
Deckman 09 Jul 03 - 01:19 PM
Don Firth 09 Jul 03 - 05:14 PM
greg stephens 09 Jul 03 - 06:12 PM
GUEST,Russ 09 Jul 03 - 06:27 PM
Frankham 09 Jul 03 - 06:50 PM
Don Firth 09 Jul 03 - 07:03 PM
hesperis 09 Jul 03 - 07:24 PM
Deckman 09 Jul 03 - 07:46 PM
Thomas the Rhymer 09 Jul 03 - 09:51 PM
GUEST,Russ 10 Jul 03 - 11:16 AM
Don Firth 10 Jul 03 - 02:09 PM
Kim C 10 Jul 03 - 04:12 PM
keberoxu 04 Jun 16 - 05:23 PM
keberoxu 04 Jun 16 - 05:35 PM
Will Fly 04 Jun 16 - 06:31 PM
Leadfingers 04 Jun 16 - 10:24 PM
keberoxu 05 Jun 16 - 01:16 PM
gillymor 06 Jun 16 - 10:08 AM
Stringsinger 06 Jun 16 - 12:08 PM
keberoxu 06 Jun 16 - 01:50 PM
keberoxu 06 Jun 16 - 03:14 PM
Share Thread
more
Lyrics & Knowledge Search [Advanced]
DT  Forum
Sort (Forum) by:relevance date
DT Lyrics:









Subject: Classical Training
From: Thomas the Rhymer
Date: 02 Jul 03 - 09:44 AM

Some here would say, that the notes carry meaning
And others there are who must notate their gleaning
While contestants audition, backstabbing permission
The folk process lives without sophisticate leaning

So, I am courteously wondering just how you feel about the 'classical' approach to folk and traditional music... I am constantly in awe of the sheer mastery and convenience of an instantly read tune... and yet, somehow... this 'freeze dried' version of heartfelt songs... though well preserved... is somewhat lacking in freshness...

...and what's worse, is the implicite denial of deeper substance... by some of the very people who 'profess' to know it so well...

What are your thoughts on this question?

Does the 'classical' approach to folk and traditional music detract from..., or enrich the underlying musical passion?

With much intrinsic questioning, ttr


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST,MMario
Date: 02 Jul 03 - 09:46 AM

take the "freeze-dried" version - run it through a folk-processing brain - perform the song while the audience is drinking - and

viola! it's thawed!


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Deckman
Date: 02 Jul 03 - 10:11 AM

You ask a very good question and one that's been around for a very long time. I'll use myself as an example: I was formally trained in music, starting when I was 12. I studied piano, theory and composition. When I was 14, I started serious voice study and continued till about 21. My voice teachers, three of them, were all classical and operatic singers. At this time I also had the benifit of tutoring in elecution and diction from a longtime radio announcer and performer. I became enthralled with traditional folk music when I was thirteen. I taught myself the basics of guitar about then, but I also studied guitar formally over the years. Now the question, did all this formal training hurt me. In my opinion, no. When I was about 16, I knew is was folkmusic that I wanted to pursue, though I kept up with my formal training. The formal training developed my voice as a musical instrument. The education gave me the ability to read and score music. But my singing 'style' is my own. And I do believe that I can present a ballad, with my voice and guitar, with good diction, with the best of them. Could I do an aria or a German"art" song today? Yes, but not very well. But with a couple of years of re-training and study, I probably could. I still occasionally sing at a wedding or a funeral and it's at those times I realize the value of my earlier study. Hope this helps. CHEERS, Bob


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: alanabit
Date: 02 Jul 03 - 10:13 AM

I have several thoughts on this subject and no real hard and fast opinion. The first thing is that "classical training" does not really mean one specific thing. Friends of mine who play at the highest level (chamber music quartets in concert halls) have been trained in the theory and technique of music. More than that they have been educated in approach, interpretation etc. Some would differ, but I believe that there is a difference between training and education.
    I think that what your original post was driving at is that there is a difference between accomplishment on its own and real accomplishment allied to a profound musicality. To be fair to classical musicians, I think they are very aware of this and think and care about it a great deal. Like you, I am quite dazzled at their skill and knowledge.
    In my own experience of classical musicians, I have always been pleasantly surprised by how positively they have reacted to me, even though I will never get near their level of musicianship. I have never found them either patronising or dismissive. I must admit though, I do sometimes wistfully think I wouldn't mind being able to apply their level of technique and knowledge to what I do! Let's have more bridges and fewer borders!


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Kim C
Date: 02 Jul 03 - 10:27 AM

I do both kinds. In my own personal experience, one helps the other.

I started out as a child (of course!) playing the piano by ear. That was all I did for several years. Then I got to piano lessons, and did all that classical stuff. I loved it. It was a challenge. But I never gave up playing by ear.

Then I got into the guitar (can't read tab at ALL), and the fiddle. Anything I know on the guitar is totally by ear, but I can tell you what key I'm in, and the dominant and subdominant and the Fsus4 and all that stuff. Fiddle stuff.... some by ear, some by music, some by a combination of the two. I've been known to look at a piece of sheet music for a fiddle tune and say, I don't like that arrangement, I'm hearing it in my head a different way.

I have been doing some classical violin stuff for the past year, and I enjoy that too. Another challenge. The technical stuff definitely helps my fiddle playing.

As far as meaning in music... well, either you have it, or you don't. I don't believe that's something that can be adequately taught.

Your mileage may vary.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Deckman
Date: 02 Jul 03 - 10:32 AM

Alanabit, your thoughts trigured off some more of mine. Notice in my previous letter I preferred to use the word "formal" training. A large part of my early education came from a very close friendship with friend I grew up with. He was a child prodigy, performed the violin in concert at age 8. His Father and Mother were both classical musicans and teachers. So I really grew up surrounded by formal music. When I started college, as a freshman music major, within one week I was taking senior level courses. And, like you, I've always been amazed by several trained musicians abilities to pick up just about any instrument, and within a minutes, make wonderful music. Bob


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST,Martin Gibson
Date: 02 Jul 03 - 12:25 PM

I knew a lady who was an extremely classically trained violinist. She was fascinated by country fiddle. She worked at it and became an adequate if not somewhat mediocre fiddler.

She lacked the feel and the soul.

People can read music and get all the training that they will ever want. However, if you are missing the feeling and soul, I think it's somewhat worthless.

What great philospher said, " I read music, but not enough to hurt my playing."


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: alanabit
Date: 02 Jul 03 - 12:34 PM

Thanks Bob. In fact, I think yours and Kim's approach is typical of a great number of folk musicians. In Köln, I am lucky enough to know Klaus der Geiger, who to my mind is indisputably one of the world's greatest folk musicians. He studied classical violin and composition (under Stockhausen among others), played with the Boston and San Francisco Philharmonic Orchestras and then moved on to a thirty plus year career as a busker singing protest songs. To hear him play live is to experience the sheer vigour of a passionate maestro. He is essentially now a folk musician who has allied exemplary technique to formiddable commitment. The two ingredients feed off each other.
      I like to pick up new skills if I can, because I like to have more than one tool in my bag. It never hurts to know something, but a wise musician does not use all his tools for every job. I think that's the essence of what you and Kim are saying too.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST,emily b
Date: 02 Jul 03 - 12:43 PM

Couldn't we ask the same question about any kind of art? Drama, painting, etc? If an actor trains by "method acting" versus something else, or a painter is self taught versus MFA'd, if the art touches someone, isn't that what counts?

I've known folk dancers who were certainly not trained dancers and while they knew which foot went where, they were hopeless at getting the particular style of the dance. Opera star Kathleen Battle just doesn't sound right singing gospel. Many folk musicians wouldn't sound right singing the blues because their voices aren't suitable or their soul isn't pained enough.

I am classically trained and was singing in a small a cappella group. We were doing a contemporary piece and I tried one of the solo lines. I was told I sounded like Mary Poppins singing pop. Sad but true. One the other hand, when I sing Celtic music, my training has helped produce a clear tone and good diction. After all, the words are a very important part of folk songs. No sur titles to folk music.

Is a classically trained singer any worse than a trad folk singer singing a rebel song and not recognizing it as such?
Emily


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Kim C
Date: 02 Jul 03 - 12:44 PM

Using all the tools for every job usually ends up with the baby being strangled!

When I studied the piano, I went to judgings and competitions every year. I have never been a great technical player at anything - this could probably be resolved if I practiced more. My highest marks were always in interpretation. And I have come to realize, that's not necessarily a bad thing.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Deckman
Date: 02 Jul 03 - 12:47 PM

Alanabit ... I can't resist another brief post, that I suppose is really an allegory! You mentioned something like "a wise musician does not use all of his tools for every job." Besides my hobby of folkmusic, I am also a deck builder. Ans as you say, I do not bring every tool I have to every job. My truck couldn't carry them. And besides, and here's the allegory, I would be "overloaded!" CHEERS, Bob


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 02 Jul 03 - 01:57 PM

Feeling, expression, soul, whatever you want to call it, is the essence in any interpretation. This applies to any repertoire, and any performer, classically trained or not.
Many people think that a classical musician is just following the printed score. This is never true unless the musician is an automaton.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST,Martin Gibson
Date: 02 Jul 03 - 02:07 PM

Too many musicians are an automation. They read music and play it much the same way a newscaster on TV reads from a teleprompter.

You can teach music theory all day and make someone extremely technical. That doesn't make that person interesting to listen to.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Kim C
Date: 02 Jul 03 - 03:05 PM

Q and Martin are both right.

So, Bob, you really ARE a Deck Man!


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST
Date: 02 Jul 03 - 05:08 PM

Some formally trained musicians can hack it and some can't. Some self-taught can and some can't. If I could work out what "it" was I wouldn't be posting here, I'd be making some money selling it.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 02 Jul 03 - 08:19 PM

I tend to agree with GUEST, Martin Gibson.

The old time music I am obsessed with isn't about the notes, it's about the rhythm. Playing all the right notes is the easy part. Playing them "convincingly" (for want of a better term) in a traditional fiddling style (central WV, eastern KY, Galax VA) appears to be difficult.

To my ear (emphasis on MY EAR) most of the cIassically trained violinsts I know who play old time music sound pretty much like classically trained violinists playing old time music. That's not really what I want to hear. They play all the right notes at the correct speed in the right way, but it is not convincing to me. That's not a criticism, it's just my personal preference.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Deckman
Date: 02 Jul 03 - 08:38 PM

A couple of things: to Kim C ... yes, I really am a "deck man." In fact, that's the name of my business. By the way, and I hope this gives you smile, my business slogan is: "YOU SHOULD SEE WHAT I SAW!" Also, as one who has had a nodding aquaintence with classical orchestras, I do say that there is need for both extremes, if you will, in the makeup. Remember, a full compliment of orchestra members is about 125 persons. When you get down to the solo level, which is what this thread is really about, it gets real personal (no charge for the humor). I have to mention my friend Don Firth's favorite performer relating to this discussion ... is William Dyer Bennet. (sp?) This man walked the razor thin edge of this thread. I have always enjoyed him on BOTH levels. You figure it out! I'm going to alert Don to this thread, as I'm sure he will be able to add much to this conversation. AIN'T MUDCAT GREAT! CHEERS, Bob(deckman)Nelson


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Thomas the Rhymer
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 11:17 AM

Nice Postings all! Dyer-Bennett is a fine example of many infleuences conjoining... How about Eileen Ivers? I am fine with the 'mental' approach, when it is not tending towards elitism... and a good performance by an arrogant musician always seems to be a dud...

I have been thinking about this for some time... Do the classically trained musicians generally tend to be more competitive? My experience says yes... and the trouble I have with this is that any competitiveness in folk/trad spoils the outcome of the aggressor... thus casting a pallor overall...

Does anyone teach people how to play with love?... or is it a self taught thing... ?

Cheerio! ttr


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: *daylia*
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 12:38 PM

"Do the classically trained musicians generally tend to be more competitive?

I doubt it. I've seen just as much 'jealousy' and competitiveness in folk groups as I have in classical circles. That always ruins the enjoyment, for me.   A lot of people don't even TRY to develop their musical talents because they think "oh, I'll never be as good as so-and-so, so what's the point?" I think that's really sad, and a true waste of potential.

"Does anyone teach people how to play with love? ... or is it a self-taught thing?"

For some, it just comes naturally. But for everyone, having a teacher or musical 'mentor' who plays with expression and love, who really does LOVE music for it's own sacred sweet sake, is the best "instruction" of all. The students pick it up as if through "osmosis".
Even if they have the dreaded task of learning how to read music as well! Love prevails, even over the written score!!!

:>)    daylia (all full of love now!)


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Strick
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 12:45 PM

Seems most folks agree with what I thought when I read the first post. Classical trainings is a great and helpful thing if you can get over it. (that is, learn to play any music the way it's meant to sound).


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Kim C
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 01:11 PM

I don't compete with anyone but myself. My formal training has been a big help to me, and I have been able to use it, and my own natural instinct, together. Most of the time that works pretty well, although sometimes has rather humorous results. Right now my teacher has me working on some Handel sonata, and there was a note I was playing wrong, because it sounded more "right" to me than the right note! :-) Now, in fiddling, at least, you can get away with that all day long.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: *daylia*
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 03:53 PM

"I don't compete with anyone but myself."

Good for you, Kim!

" ... and there was a note I was playing wrong, because it sounded more "right" to me than the right note! :-) Now, in fiddling, at least, you can get away with that all day long."

When my piano students "learn" a "wrong" note, I always point it out to them and demonstrate the "right" one so they can hear the difference. I figure that's my job as a music teacher. But -- as long as they are not intending to perform the piece for marks (ie exams, festivals) -- if they insist that they like their version better, I don't mind if them play it their own way. And sometimes, I even agree -- their own version does sound better! Sometimes I think Bach made it his business to use strange, awkward-sounding harmonies!

So how do you get away with it on the fiddle? Creative intonation, maybe? My viola teacher had the ears of a ... well, a god maybe! I couldn't get away with diddley!!

Unless I wore a halter and a real short skirt ... then he didn't notice as much ...

daylia


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Deckman
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 03:59 PM

I certainly agree with all the comments on the four previous postings, assuming another posting does not slide in while I'm writing this. I wanted to add to the question as to whether classically trained musicians are more competitive. I think the answer is largely YES. And the reason is the fault of the "system" itself. Assuming that you studied at a large and prestigious Music school, such as Oberlin Conservatory of Music, as my friend Lauren did, you are a product of the system. From there he went onto many prestigious orchesters, playing such conductors as Stokowski (sp?). He attended master classes in conducting with the likes of Berstein, (again sp?) etc. Probably for 20 years of his life, he was always in a competitve postition. Second chair, challenge for first chair, challenge for Concert Master (assistant Conductor)? At the time of his death, he had had quite a marvelous career not only as a violin soloist, but had conducted five orchestras. So, many of the classically trained musicians I've known are very competitve. Hopefully, the older they get, and the more secure, the more human they become. But let me tell you ... it's a tough world out there. You may reach a certain level of proficency, but you're always looking over your shoulder because youngsters are always comming up behind you. And if YOU are sitting in the First Chair violin section, and they are in the Second Chair section. the ONLY way they can advance is to challenge you. And they do! CHEERS, Bob (I'm enjoying this thread, as if you couldn't tell).


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: katlaughing
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 04:12 PM

I grew up with both formal classical in piano and violin, but also hearing my mom and dad play for dances, both by ear and off the music. I was fortunate in all of my teachers and in the choices they made for music. IMO, one couldn't help but be moved by the glorious harmonies, etc. of Mozart, Beethoven, Telemann, Vivaldi, etc. Of course, I was just as moved by the songs and tunes I learned from mom and dad.

I think Itzak Perlman is a great example of someone who can bridge the gap - ever heard him on klezmer fiddle?!

I am very grateful for the early training, esp. for my ear, both classical and trad. It's priceless, as far as I am concerned, to my happiness and satisfaction when making music.

I think where classically trained violinists who try to fiddle get into trouble is if they try to do it all by the dots and don't just do it by ear. They have to learn to loosen up, realise they do not have to be formal about it. It's almost like riding a bicycle without the training wheels for the first time (NOT that classical music is at all simple in the playing technique, etc!)

Ciaran Carson had some good points about all of this in his book on Irish music and time. If I get a chance I'll post an excerpt from the most excellent book!:-) There are also a couple of old thread about this I'll try to find.

kat


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Deckman
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 04:28 PM

Hi Kat ... very interesting thoughts you just posted! For many years, I used to 'poke' my friend Lauren, remember he was a formally trained violinist, by calling his violin a "fiddle." This would always upset him, which is why I did it. Up here in Seattle, we have been blessed by the presence of one the masters of fiddling, Vivian Williams. My memory says that she won the Weisor,Idaho competition when she was a teenager. My friend Lauren heard her once, and grudgingly commented that was pretty good. The irony in this story is that my friend Lauren's daughter, is also a concert violinist. Sometime ago, she mentioned to me that she's getting intrested in fiddling. Go figure? CHEERS, Bob (in fairness to my friend it's important to remember that he had perfect pitch, and the sliding and slurring of pitches drove him nuts).


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Mudlark
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 05:29 PM

Listening to Leadbelly play piano...it's like somebody falling down stars...flubbed notes, sometimes out of rhythm..but god he sounded like he was having fun...it's always been a part of his music I've enjoyed. No WAY a classically trained pianist could allow their hands that kind of playing, is my guess. My mother was a classical pianist and went crazy trying to play "boogie-woogie" back in the late 40's (at my dad's insistence). She could get all the notes, dead simple compared to Rachmanianoff (sp), but dead, dead, dead.

Leadbelly's guitar playing wasn't all that great either, but it fit his music perfectly. On the other hand, I could listen to Julian Bream or John Williams play classical guitar all day, as well, and enjoy both equally.

I can't read a note, have never taken a lesson, and have always been a bit shy and hangdog about my simple guitar playing. But I really love the music, the stories, the feel of folk...and there have been times when I've been accompanied by a much better guitarist than myself...and been unhappy with the result. I think it IS hard not to use all of one's nifty, hard-won tools all the time. It takes not only sensitivity but valiant restraint to give a song just what it needs (as as the performer perceives it)...and nothing else.

But oh, to be ABLE to pick well, do barre chords, etc. And I love to hear music theory expounded, tho I don't understand one word in 10. I feel really fortunate to love so many kinds of music...classical, folk, blues, jazz...and I don't care if there are crossovers. As far as I'm concerned, the only time crossovers work is when you have to be TOLD it's a crossover.

Very interesting thread, lots of good, thoughtful posts.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Deckman
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 05:58 PM

Mudlark ... "valient restraint!" What perfect phrase. One very important part of musicianship is to value restraint ... the knowing of when to underplay something, or to say it another way ... to know when enough is enough! CHEERS, Bob


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Don Firth
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 06:05 PM

Beware! Lengthy Discourse Follows!

"Does anyone teach people how to play with love?"

Well, actually, yes. One of my voice teachers asked me bring my guitar to lessons and after the vocal technique part, he would ask me to sing whatever songs I was working on at the time. He would often stop me in the middle of a verse and say, "Now what does that line mean? Tell me in your own words." His point was, "Don't sing by rote. Be sure you understand the meaning of the words you are singing. What are the emotions those words convey? What do they mean to you?" Methinks that's teaching to play and sing with love.

I think there are a couple of things at work here. The most important one might be called "inherent musical sense." Where this comes from, I don't know. Listening to music from an early age? Growing up in a musical family? Anyway, some people seem to have it, some people don't.

If a person simply doesn't have it, no amount of music lessons and training will turn him or her into an inspired, charismatic performer. He or she might become a very competent musician, able to play anything at sight from written music, and sometimes play with spectacular technical proficiency (I'm thinking of a particular classic guitarist; many CDs out, but not quite as well known as Segovia, Bream, Williams, Romero, or Fernandez. He plays everything about half again as fast as it should be played and he never misses a note, but he has an attack like a flamenco guitarist and his playing is absolutely soulless). Some of these folks make good orchestra musicians: "reads expertly, technically proficiently, and plays well with others." This is not to put symphony orchestra musicians down in any way. But it's important for a symphony musician to be able to suppress his or her individual inclinations and follow the interpretation of the conductor, or the result will be ragged at best and chaos at worst. But good symphony musicians rarely become solo concert performers (although there are notable exceptions to this). Qualifying to play in a symphony orchestra requires that a musician have an extensive amount of musical training, but too much of an individual style can be counterproductive. But a musician who has this inherent musical sense can modify their style to fit the situation.

If a person has this inherent musical sense, he or she can probably do pretty well without formal training. Presuming that he or she has this quality in combination with certain physical attributes such as a good natural singing voice (not necessarily operatic, but at the very least, able to sing on pitch, and preferably not sounding like fingernails on a blackboard), and has the necessary ambition and drive, the basic requirements for a successful singing career are present. If they have a normal and fairly supple pair of hands, they can teach themselves to play a musical instrument (say, a guitar) out of manuals. But remember—this is a form of training (you have to learn your first chords from somewhere). There are a lot of successful musicians out there who are self-taught—self-trained. Lots of singers of folk songs. Lots of pop singers. Frank Sinatra, for example, never had any formal voice lessons. And, surprisingly enough, Metropolitan Opera bass-baritone Ezio Pinza (Some Enchanted Evening) never learned to read music very well. He had to memorize entire opera scores by ear!! (I would say that being able to do this indicates a certain "inherent musical sense.")

But self-teaching means you have to grub it out on your own. If you don't learn to read music (not that hard, really) you are limited to learning songs by ear: by having singers write out the words for you and sing it over and over for you until you get the tune; or play the CD repeatedly while you scribble and memorize. You're cut off from whole libraries full of song books and sheet music—unless you can get friend who is both patient and musically literate, or someone like Pinza's vocal coach to work with you (how much did Pinza have to pay him for that, I wonder). Not being able to read music is very limiting for a musician. Consider, for a moment, an actor who can't read, and has to get someone read the script to him over and over until he has it memorized! The chances of his having a successful acting career are pretty slim! How much easier just to learn to read. Think of the independence. With diligence, you can teach yourself to read music, but it's a lot easier with a teacher.

And music theory. Reading music is analogous to knowing the alphabet and recognizing words and sentences. Music theory is analogous to spelling and grammar. What notes go into making a major chord? A minor chord (that's sort of like spelling words). When you decide on what key you want to do a song in, what chords are available to you in that key? Not just three, there are a whole bunch you can chose from (major and minor; I'm not talking about modified and added-note chords). How do you know which chords you could use at a particular place in the song? When you start to learn music theory, all this becomes clear. Music theory includes such things as the Circle of Fifths (what chords go with which keys and how to transpose easily), scale structure (what's the difference between major and minor keys and how come not all minor scales are the same?). What are modes? How do they differ from the scales we normally use? How do you recognize them? How are modes used? What chords would you use for a song in, say, Dorian mode? Why is it especially important for those who work with folk music to know something about modes!??

Notice that:—

1. These are questions that come up frequently and repeatedly right here on Mudcat (umpteen different threads).

Some of the answers Mudcatters come up with are correct, but unfortunately many answers are not, and contain a lot of misinformation. Lots of people here have studiously avoided anything that resembles formal training and are burdened with trial-and-error misconceptions, confused and confusing use of terminology, and general bewilderment. If you don't already know, how do you tell which is which? More confusion for the innocent! Lots of blind leading the blind, I'm sad to say! Best to get it from a good book on the subject or from a class specifically devoted to teaching music theory.

2. The answers to all these questions can be found in a good, comprehensive textbook on music theory. In any halfway decent school of music, they're covered in freshman music theory classes. Some universities offer courses in basic music theory for those not majoring in music in evening classes—for not that much money. Oddly enough, not all that many private piano, voice, guitar, or violin teachers do a very good job of teaching music theory, because, although they might be able to read very well, many (I venture to say, most) never learned music theory themselves. They, in turn, learned from teachers who didn't know it either, and could teach only by rote. This goes a long way toward explaining people who have had lots of lessons and read well, but don't seem to quite know what they are doing and often don't play with much heart. If your teacher won't or can't teach it to you, find someone who can.

And voice. There are many good singers floating around who have never had a voice lesson. There are also a lot of singers floating around whose voices go to pot fairly quickly. Singing with a tight vocal apparatus or not using good breath support is hard on the larynx and the vocal folds, those delicate little strands that make the whole thing possible. Chronic laryngitis, nodes on the vocal folds, and any of a number of other hazards that come as a result of bad vocal technique can cut a promising career short—or, at least, a lot shorter than it could be. I once heard Russian basso Mark Reizen sing Prince Gremin's aria from Eugene Onegin at the age of ninety! And he sounded as rich and full as he ever did. Good vocal technique kept him going. A few voice lesson taken early on—learning to relax your throat and "place" the voice, and learning to use good breath support—can make singing a lot easier and save you a lot of grief later on. And don't worry: it won't make you sound like an opera singer. Believe me, there are lots of young singers aspiring to sing opera who wish it was that easy!! Not many people can, because not many people were born with that kind of big, full, resonant voice.

Now, one thing I hope is coming through loud and clear, here. Anyone (and there are large numbers of folk music enthusiasts with this misconception) who thinks that if you learn a song from written music, you can't sing it and it play with heart is dead wrong. If a person doesn't sing with heart, it's not because they learned the song from written music, it's because they haven't really learned the song. They may have learned the words and the notes, but the rest of it has to come from within themselves. If you can tell that they are singing from written music and not from some inner impulse, emotion, or understanding, that's not the fault of the written music, that's the fault of the singer. Example: one actor learns a speech from a copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare and delivers it brilliantly. Another actor learns the same speech from the same volume and he stinks to high heaven! Is this the fault of Shakespeare? Or the publisher of the book? If so, please explain.

A major misconception of a lot of folk music enthusiasts is the idea that music theory is a bunch of rules and prohibitions that dictate how you must play and sing, and that it will sit there on your chest like a ghoul, destroying your "naturalness" and "spontaneity."   They just simply don't understand what music theory is all about. Music theory is to a musician what structural engineering is to an architect. It's "how it's put together." Knowing structural engineering allows different architects to come up with radically different designs for the same kind of building, both of which are structurally sound. If the buildings all come out like "little boxes," that's not the fault of structural engineering, it's lack of insight on the part of the architects in question. The truth is that music theory opens a whole world of possibilities! It shows you what you can do. Many times it reveals possibilities that you probably never would have thought of on your own. Any time it suggests not doing a particular thing, there is usually a reason for it. Musicians in the past have tried it, and it turned out to be a real clinker. Try it yourself and see. Music theory is the combined knowledge of all of those musicians who have gone before. To turn you back on this fund of knowledge and experience is just plain foolish.

Why knock yourself out trying to reinvent the wheel?

Learning to read music will greatly expand the sources you can use.   Knowing music theory, in addition to broadening your horizons enormously, will help you work out your own individual arrangements without having to copy anybody else's (in fact, you may find other people are starting to copy yours). But—once you've learned all the notes, learning to play the music is your responsibility.

Don Firth


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Deckman
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 06:20 PM

WHEW! ... Well said Don! For those of you that don't know of the close relationship and high regard I have for Don, this is a fine example of why I consider him one my best mentors! Love to you Don, Bob


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Bev and Jerry
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 07:11 PM

It is said that if you want to play (or sing) a solo you need to practice the piece until you know all of the notes without looking at the music. Then you need to practice the piece until you no longer know the notes. Then you can play (sing) it from your soul.

Bev and Jerry


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Frankham
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 07:30 PM

I think it can work both ways. Louis Armsrong. If he had studied formally what would have happened? OTOH Burl Ives studied Schuber Leider with a Met vocal coach. John (Ti Jean) Carignan played fiddle so well self-taught that classical musicians came to listen to him do things they couldn't do and break all the rules.

There are good reasons to learn classical styles. More breadth and perspective in music is one. A lot of jazz musicians studied Stravinsky, Bartok (Charlie Parker is one). Bix knew Ravel and Debussey. Jelly Roll Morton played classical music before jazz.

OTOH does Eileen Farrell have the "Right to Sing the Blues"?

Now when it comes to vocal technique to save your voice, that makes sense. If it requires learning a few Italian vocalises, why not?

What is meant by classical music? Today, jazz may be the American classical music, some say. Alan Lomax used to say that classical music or art music has a European base and might be more foreign to American musicians than traditional folk music.

I think Phillip Glass is a genius. He could be the new American classical music too. Borrows from folk and ethnic rhythms.

But if you study European "classical" music, this may not help you understand jazz, blues, trad. country or even pop styles. But OTOH the techniques that are gleaned from the study of so-called "classical" music can help when you go to study the disciplines of aforementioned jazz, blues, trad country,trad folk, pop or rock.

But these are different disciplines and require the same attention as one would spend on "classical" music.

Frank Hamilton


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: katlaughing
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 07:36 PM

Yes, Bev and Jerry, that's what we did for solo competitions in school, but i hated the memorising part even though I did well. It is so much less enjoyable than learning/memorising something by ear!

Mudlark, way back when some classically trained pianists could do like Leadbelly, my Uncle Courtney did so on piano and his brother, Howard, could really cut loose on clarinet, despite the fact that they had classical music lessons while growing up. My dad, who had a few fiddle lessons and was taught to read music in grammar school (didn't all schools used to do that? Ours did.), still talks in awe of their incredible natural talent for jazz, trad, and dance music. My sister has an old 78 that Uncle Courtney had made one time. I'll have to see about getting a copy of it made.:-)


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Deckman
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 07:37 PM

Bev and Jerry ... Well said! I guess this thread has got my juices going! I think a beautiful example of this subject was exhibited at a concert that Don and I participated in this last Memorial Day weekend. About a hundred years ago, 1958 or 59, Don arrived with this glorious version of "Delias Gone." He'd gleeped it from a recording of Rolf Cahns' (sp?) It was a beautiful song, but it was the classical guitar arrangement that captured me. After threats of severe pain, Don sat me down and taught me, note for note, that guitar arrangement. (poor fellow). As the years went by, I reconnected with this song many times. Some years ago I met David Bromberg when I opened a concert for him. I listened backstage as he did this song. I was again fascinated with the song and the arrangement that Don, through Rolf Cahn, had brought to me. This year, at the Northwest Folklife Festival, Don and I had the glorious opportunity to perform together again. One of the songs we did, and we'd never done this as a duet before, was "Delias Gone." We found out, as we were preparing for the performance, that our solo presentations had changed ... and yet they still worked. The guitars were rock solid. but we had forgotten and had also gained whole new verses. Most importantly, vocal styles had changed, yet they worked together as we traded verses. To me, this represents several things: the value of solid musicianship forged from years of solid study and practice; the mutual acceptance of the creative process; and most of all, the mutual repsect for the music and the musicians. CHEERS, Bob


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Bassic
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 08:41 PM

I am no musicologist but I am a classically trained musician. One of the key observations I have been made awaree of in the last 3 or 4 years since I discovered traditional music for myself, is that it is "All in the rhythm". Listen to a "classical violinist" and a "fiddler" play an up-tempo tune and each will give the same tune different qualities. The instinct of the classical violinist is to seek out the "phrase" in the tune, in other words, its lyrical quality. A Violinist tries to make their instrument "sing". That is usually what will dominate their interpretation.
The fiddler on the other hand, will usually seek out the rhythm of the tune and that will be the characteristic that is emphasized or "comes across" most strongly in their interpretation. Which is correct?
The numerous settings of traditional tunes in classical music have produced some wonderful pieces in the classical repertoire, but they do sound "different" to their traditional origins. Try dancing to some of them!! That is the key, it's the dance origins of traditional playing, where the emphasis is on the rhythm, which gives this music its character. They were written to be played with a rhythmic emphasis and I believe it isn't until classically trained musicians "discover" this and put less emphasis on phrasing that they start to get the "feel" of traditional music. The best players manage to combine both elements. I know the above is a sweeping generalisation but I have observed it to be true on several occasions.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Deckman
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 08:43 PM

Well said, Bob


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 08:54 PM

Please forgive me for posting my opinion before I've had time to read the whole thread, but this is a subject I've given considerable thought to before now…

Classical training, for the most part, means training to be part of an orchestra. There are exceptions—pianists are usually soloists, for example. Classical training concentrates on technical skill rather than originality, individuality, or interpretation. Even young pianists are given such difficult material to work on—Chopin, for instance—that they are considered to be doing well if they can only get all the notes in the right place, never mind whether they play with any feeling.

Next time you see an orchestra, watch the fiddlers—excuse me, violinists—and notice how their bows are moving. There may be more than one fiddle—there I go again—violin section playing different notes, but within one section, all the bows will be moving up or down in unison. This is not a coincidence. The lead violinist (What's the term? First chair? Concert master?) goes over the score and decides whether each note should be played with an up stroke or a down stroke, notates the score accordingly, and passes out copies to everyone in the section, so that they all play each note in the same way.

By contrast, watch a bunch of folk or bluegrass fiddlers jamming together, and you will see their bows going every which way. I think if you tried to tell any folk fiddler (other than a raw beginner) which way to move his bow, he'd tell you to stick it where the sun don't shine!

Individual expression is antithetical to orchestral music—and choir music, which is the equivalent for voice. If there is to be any expression, that's what the conductor is for: to tell the musicians exactly what to express and how and when to express it, note by note, phrase by phrase, so that they all express the conductor's feelings, not their own. Of course, soloists are an exception, but remember, you don't get to be a soloist until you've had years of experience playing as an orchestra member, and most classical musicians never become soloists.

I've known a couple of classically trained musicians who switched to folk music, and my impression is that they've had the life beaten out of them. Or maybe the life has never developed. They can pick up a piece of sheet music and play it perfectly the first time—perfectly, meaning all the notes are in the right place—but it's devoid of feeling, or any sense of fun, and sounds mechanical, rather like a midi file. No one note is emphasized more than any other. I'm not saying a classically trained musician can't become a good folk musician, but it seems they first have to "unlearn" part of their training.

One thing that classically trained musicians miss out on is playing for dances. I think playing for dances is a very good experience for folk musicians. It teaches you rhythm and the importance of a strong beat above anything else. It also gives you a chance to fool around and have fun, because the dancers won't notice most of the embellishments you put in. You can take risks and make mistakes and it won't matter.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Benjamin
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 09:17 PM

If you ever have a chance to hear a recording of Charles Ives playing the piano (Composers Recordings Inc. has one out called "Ives plays Ives), I would highly recomend it. Ives was a classicaly trained pianist and composer, one of the first musicians to graduate from Yale, yet had a deep respect for (for lack of a better word) vernacular music.
Also in Seattle is a pianist named Annivile Blues. She grew up studing classical piano and at some point switched over to blues. From talking to her, she doesn't really regret a thing in her previous training.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: hesperis
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 09:20 PM

Don Firth and Bassic - EXCELLENT points!

I started music early on. My mother was a singer-songwriter guitar player who was completely self-taught. My father was a musician who could play perfectly but had little soul. At a very early age, I knew the difference, and wanted to learn only so much theory as would support actual music. At the age of 3, I actually refused to go to piano lessons with a teacher who concentrated on technique to the exclusion of fun. Music is about having fun, not about being the greatest piano player on the planet.

I've had certain classical or classically-trained "elite" jazz players try to make me play like them, but we're all fortunate that most are there for the love of the music, not just the love of technique. Some of the classical training I received got in the way if I let it, and I did my best to not let it do so.

It is definitely possible for the classical training and knowledge to support the REAL music.

A lot of classical players don't realize that there is more to music than classical. Different genres have a different emphasis of what is important in the music.

When I compose, I have an innate sense of musical structure. I always had it, and learning theory helped make it better. I know when to break the rules to let the music's soul be what comes through.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: *daylia*
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 09:51 PM

"Classical training concentrates on technical skill rather than originality, individuality, or interpretation"

Jim, either you have no classical training or you went to an extremely lousy school.

Marks for performance of pieces and studies for instrumental exams at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto are assigned as follows --

FAIL - inconsistent tempo
    - distorted rhythm
    - inaccurate notes
    - technical limitations
    - little or no dynamic contrasts
    - lacking in continuity

PASS - 60-69% - fairly consistent tempo
    - accurate rhythm
    - fairly accurate notes
    - some technical ability
    - basic dynamic contrast
    - general continuity

HONOURS - 70-79% - consistent tempo
       - accurate and shaped rhythm
       - accurate notes
       - technical control
       - clearly marked dynamic contrast
       - some definition in articulation
       - a sense of phrasing and line
       - good tone quality
       - some idea of style

FIRST CLASS HONOURS - 80-89% - appropriate, well maintained tempo
                   - rhythm; accuracy, vitality, flexibility
                   - technically fluent
                   - wide range and subtlety of dynamics
                   - flexibility, direction and shaping of phrases
                   - convincing and appropriate articulation
                   - depth and balance of tone
                   - secure and varied touch
                   - fluent and confident in performance

1ST CLASS HONOURS WITH DISTINCTION - 90% and over
                  
                   - exceptional performance, virtually impossible to   
                      criticize
                   - artistry and flair
                   - interpretive insight and a talent for
                      communicating this to the listener


The reason violinists in an orchestra all bow the same way is because they have learned to hold and use the bow in a manner that produces the finest quality and widest range of tone and articulation technically possible on that instrument.

Classical musicians who've been well taught do not have to "unlearn" ANY of their training to play other genres of music, including folk music. The slightly different styles, instruments and "techniques" merely add to their repertoire. And their technical and theoretical knowledge makes that a whole lot easier.

daylia


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Stewart
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 10:27 PM

Very interesting thread.

Don and Deckman, I agree with you completely. I was classically trained, but I've also listened to a lot of folk music since I was young. So that has helped. But also the classical training has been quite helpful - both voice and violin, and some music theory in college. Some of the best young Irish fiddlers now are classically trained, but also have been exposed to a lot of Irish music growing up with their families (Liz Carroll for example). I think that makes a big difference. Listening to the music is as important as playing it.

Jim, I know what you mean about non-solo classical playing - I've played in school orchestras and too many choirs (I gave that up many years ago). I like the freedom in folk music to interpret it in my own way, and to not worry about making a few mistakes. I probably couldn't make it anymore as a classical musician (much too difficult for me now), but I can do a reasonably good job as a folk musician.

I've tried to write some of my own tunes and find that my music theory background has been quite helpful - saved a lot of trial and error. And the ability to read music and figure out chords and keys is a great advantage.

Cheers, S. in Seattle


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Don Firth
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 10:34 PM

That Memorial Day concert at Folklife was great! Bob has a good, solid baritone voice that he uses well, and you can hear every word of whatever song he happens to be singing because his diction is crisp and clear without calling attention to itself. And his guitar accompaniments are solid, tasteful, and straightforward. As far as I know, Bob has never studied classic guitar, but he plays a great-sounding old Martin classic and his general technique looks classic to me.   I'm sure if he wanted to, with a few hours in the woodshed with the sheet music, he could whip off a bit of Sor or Tarrega. Bob's musicianship is solid as a rock, and it works in the service of putting the song across. And he knows a heck of a lot of great songs. It was a real kick working together again! [By the way, my sister got some pretty good pictures, so when I get them scanned in, I'll see about getting them posted on the "Member Photos & Info / Events" page. That'll be a bit yet.]

Jim, read my post above (03 Jul 03 - 06:05 PM), paragraph four, where I talk about symphony orchestra musicians. We agree on most things.

I think beginning orientation has a fair amount to do with it, but it doesn't have to rule your life. A musician who has had a lot of classical training with the idea of becoming a classical musician, and then decides to do some serious forays into folk music may have some difficulty in loosening up sufficiently, at least at first. Classical training and practice concentrates pretty heavily on precision and beauty of tone (at least by classical standards), whereas a lot of folk-style playing is pretty sloppy (again, by classical standards), with less emphasis on beauty of tone. Once the classical musician does loosen up enough to say, "Oh, what the hell!" and just lets 'er rip, he or she is going to be essentially indistinguishable from any other folk musician—except for playing very well and sounding pretty darned good. I've heard this happen on a number of occasions. Above, Bob mentions Vivian Williams, who started out with classical violin training, turned to bluegrass, and was the first woman to win a national country fiddling contest back in the early Sixties (which means she had to be better than everyone else, especially the men, by a pretty wide margin). She can saw that sucker with the best of them (obviously!), but when she wants to, she can back off and milk a beautiful, sweet tone out of that violin/fiddle. Unless she decides to try to unseat Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg, she has all the technique she'll ever need and then some.

It's nice to be able to do both

Horrible example: Some years ago, I heard a prominent operatic tenor do Lord Randal in one of his recitals. He was great with the operatic arias and the art songs, but he didn't know Lord Randal from Fred Mertz! He gave it the full, Italianate operatic treatment, making it sound like the final aria in Lucia di Lamermoor, as Edgardo lays there dying with a dagger in his chest. Gawdawful! The tenor was strictly opera-oriented, and he had no idea of how to put a folk song across. Bad choice. Even some of the opera buffs in the audience were a bit turned off. Oddly enough, John Jacob Niles used to get away with that sort of thing! I've heard that during his rendition of Hangman, Hangman, Slack Your Rope, he's all over the stage, writhing, falling to his knees, gasping, and clutching at his throat. . . .

I repeat: classical training is not going to erase your ability to do folk music well (or any other kind of music, for that matter) unless you let it. Quite the contrary. It gives you the ability to do all kinds of things that you would not be able to do otherwise.

Glorious example: Wynton Marsalis. He had classical training in the beginning, and he is one of the top jazz trumpet players in the world, highly respected by jazz musicians and classical musicians alike. All I had ever heard of him was his jazz, and then one night on the tube, I saw him and heard him play Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. I've heard that a lot, but I've never heard it played better.

Don Firth


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 10:35 PM

Daylia: Your first guess was right: I have had no classical training worth speaking of. (I did learn to read music somewhat.) But I have no folk training either, so I have no reason to be prejudiced one way or the other. I am not a musician. Everything I know about music, I learned by listening to it or reading about it. If that means I'm not entitled to an opinion, fine, but hey, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while. So if you don't like my ideas, please argue with the ideas and don't resort to ad hominem arguments.

So, do I understand you correctly, that you're denying that there is any, ah, concerted effort on the part of the violinists to all move their bows the same way? That they all just know, by virtue of their training, that the right way to play one note is with a down stroke and the right way to play another note is with an up stroke? And they all just naturally agree on this? And this agreement produces better music? And all the great folk fiddlers of the world have somehow just failed to discover this principle?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: *daylia*
Date: 03 Jul 03 - 11:49 PM

Jim, I wasn't trying to attack your person -- just pointing out how obvious it was (to me, anyway) that you've either had no classical training or (unfortunately) very bad training. Your remarks clearly demonstrated a lack of knowledge of what's required of classical musicians, how they "make the grade". I wasn't trying to insult you personally!

Interpretation, expression, sensitivity and playing "from the heart", the ability to improvise with flair (and "cover" your mistakes by doing so!), a talent for developing a rapport with your audience, a deep sense of personal style and individuality, a clear understanding of the style of the music -- AS WELL AS correct notation and rhythm -- these are the characteristics that make an exceptional musician in any genre, including classical. I posted the RCM examination marking system to demonstrate that -- and other reputable schools are the same.

On the violin, using a down-stroke with the bow produces a strong beat, and an up-bow produces a weaker one. This is a natural physical thing -- the 'handle' end of the bow is heavier, and if you start the stroke there, it produces a louder, sharper tone than starting at the tip. Also, on a down-stroke you are working WITH gravity (your arm is moving downwards towards the floor), while on an upstroke you are pushing against gravity. This also affects the "weight" -- or strength -- of the tone.

(It's the same principle with the guitar -- a down-stroke with the pick produces the strong beats, up-strokes produce weaker ones. It's the way the instruments and the human body are made, and the way gravity works).

Most Western music is written with a measured pulse (ie. waltzes are in 3 time, the pulse is Strong-weak-weak). The violinists in an orchestra all bow the same way because they are all playing -- (hopefully) -- the same piece, with the same rhythm and the same basic pulse, at the same tempo, on the same instrument. They all use downstrokes for the strong beats, ups for the weaker ones -- because that's how the rhythmic pulse is achieved on a violin, and they've all learned that. And they all have learned to hold the bow in the manner that is physically best for facilitating technical and tonal variety and control. Why do they bother to learn all this? Because the style of music they perform DOES sound best that way -- and if you want to be excellent, it's an absolute requirement.

As to whether or not folk musicians figure this out -- some do and some don't, according to what they need and what they want.

daylia


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Deckman
Date: 04 Jul 03 - 12:30 AM

As I've mentioned before, my late friend was, an addition to being a violinist, a symphony orchestra conductor. Over our lifetime of friendship, I attended many rehersals and performances of his various orchestras around the world. As we had grown up together, I always knew that I could poke fun at him as I felt he needed. One time, I complained, after a rather boring concert, that all the violin bows, sawing in unison had put me to sleep. He carefully explained to me, with complete dead pan, while dressed in his formal tails backstage, that the reason they do this is, is to keep the conductor in proper time!
True story! CHEERS and again, what a great thread!


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Deckman
Date: 04 Jul 03 - 01:24 AM

I thought that I should explain my previous posting in more detail. In a full orchestra, usually about 125 musicians, the ranking goes like this: The "Conductor" is the boss. The means that he can play EVERY instrument in the orchestra, and can and will,interupt what the composer intended with the scoring, with every single instrument; the second in command is the "Concert Meister", he is always the first chair in the violin section. He is the person who actually rehearses the orchestra most of the time. The Conductor, and the Concert Meister are a team. They together, plan the programs, the sheduales, the tours, the money, etc. At any time, the Concert Meister has to be able to fill in for the Conductor ... period. So you can see what a demanding and lifelong committment orchestral life becomes. My friend died hard of cancer. We'd been buddies, and thrown rocks at each other since we were five. I learned so much from him. My only regret is that I never took up the option to "carry his violin" once on a Europeon tour. It would have been an honor! CHEERS, Bob


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 04 Jul 03 - 03:27 AM

From a Pacific Symphony Orchestra web site:

"The leader of the first violin section is the principal solo violinist of the orchestra and is also the concertmaster. Duties include ... making difficult technical decisions for the entire section, such as bowing techniques ..."

From an article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on a concertmaster's duties:

"That means keeping sections bowing in the same direction...."

From an article in the newsletter of The Orchestras of Australia Network, called "Key Roles and Relationships: The Concertmaster":

"The first priority when you first sit down to rehearse a work is to have all the bowings the same in your section and ideally across the strings."

My point was: I don't think most folk musicians could tolerate this kind of lockstep regimentation.

Help me out, people. I don't think I'm succeeding in getting my idea across. I'd like to hear from those of you who have had the experience of playing in a folk band where some members had classical training and some did not. How did it work for you? Did you have conflicts? Were you able to resolve them? How did it feel?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: *daylia*
Date: 04 Jul 03 - 10:55 AM

Jim -- As a classical pianist and piano teacher, who also studied viola for several years as a kid (including many years of playing with the local Youth Orchestra) and gave that up at 15 to play the guitar (by ear and by watching friends -- no lessons but highly motivated as a lover of both rock and folk genres), I'll describe my "debut" performing with a group of folk musicians -- what it was like and how I felt.

A friend had taken me to a local coffeehouse where folk and blues musicians had an open stage. There was an excellent blues musician - Wayne Buttery - on site that night. My friend, much to my dismay, kept telling everyone that I was some sort of excellent piano player until Wayne called me up on stage to "jam" with him and his backup band. I was a bit terrified, because although I love the blues I'd never jammed with anyone before, least of all on stage. But I'd been trained by many years of performing at exams and recitals and festivals to come through under pressure, so I valiantly went up there and sat at the keyboard, my hands shaking and my heart pounding.

Wayne looked at me and said "okay, 12-bar blues in E". I had no idea what he meant by "12-bar blues", but I was too nervous to let on. From practicing technique (scales, chords etc) and studying theory, at least I knew the key of E (and every other key too) and which chords are related to it (that's called harmony). They started playing, and I started 'jamming' along, very simply at first, following the chord progressions by ear, just loving the rhythm.

After a minute, I was thinking "Hey, I know this pattern -- everyone knows this pattern! A million songs have it, even one of my own compositions! So this is what's called the 12-bar blues??? Cool ..." I got more confident, started experimenting with the chords, adding 7ths and 9ths (as I'd learned them from theory and practicing technique).

Then Wayne gave me a nod, and said "take it away". I realized this meant I was to do a "solo" -- egads!! I clutched a bit at first, but loosened up after a few seconds. I was figuring "okay, a solo. That means something to show off your technique, I guess". So I ran through the chord changes, using bits of scales and broken chords and arpeggios , adding a few more 7ths and 9ths and a few "weird" notes for good measure. (Those "weird" notes are why they call it the blues, I was thinking). I bet it was the most "classical" sounding blues jam heard in that coffeehouse to date, but the audience seemed to like it, anyway.

I know I did -- although I was very much relieved when the song ended and I was out the spotlight. So I found out what 12-bar-blue meant that night, even did a passable job of "jamming" along with professional blues musicians on stage, no less! When I told my friend what I'd learned up there, he couldn't believe I really had no idea what "12-bar blues" was at first. If it hadn't been for my classical training in technique, my knowledge of theory and harmony, my well-trained ear, and many years of being trained as a performer, I'd have been sunk, that's for sure!! I wouldn't have had the confidence to even try ....

Regarding "everyone bowing in the same direction" in an orchestra, I belonged to a Youth Orchestra for many years, and I don't recall anyone ever working with us to get us "bowing the same direction". As long as everyone's playing their parts correctly -- with the proper rhythm and articulation (phrasing, legato or staccato touch etc) -- and following the written music (the up and down strokes are clearly marked on the score, at least where they vary from what's standard for the rhythm and phrasing) -- then everyone DOES bow in the same direction, without any special "regimentation".

For a professional orchestra, it's probably vital to have someone (the concert-master) make sure everyone's playing their parts correctly - no bowing mistakes!! -- because it LOOKS better to the audience than to have all those "sticks" flailing around in any old direction. We were not a professional orchestra -- yet. We had no concert-master, but the conductor would take us aside and work with us privately if we were having trouble playing (or bowing) our parts as written on the score.

Please pardon me for going on so long, but I'd also like to share this success story about one of my 9 yr old piano students. He phoned me last night, just ecstatic -- he got 89% (First Class Honours) on his Grade One piano exam at the RCM!! I'm VERY pleased, and he's VERY proud! Average marks at the Conservatory, for all grade levels, are in the 70's.

By preparing for that classical exam, he got a very well-balanced musical education this year. This is what he was required to do --

* Perform from memory four different pieces of contrasting styles. He chose a little Baroque Minuet, an imaginative "tone-painting" called "The Snake", the "Beaver Boogie" (a cute little riff by a Canadian composer in 12-bar blues) and a traditional English piece called "Hunting Horns".

* Perform from memory a half dozen different major and harmonic minor scales and triads (chords), to demonstrate technical ability and basic knowledge of keys.

* Perform with accurate notes, rhythm and dynamics, a very simple 4-bar phrase he'd never seen before, to demonstrate his ability to read music (sight-reading)

* Clap back a rhythm he'd never heard before, after hearing it played twice by the examiner; and play back a very short melody based on the the first three notes of the scale, after being told the key and hearing (not watching!) the examiner play it twice. This is called ear training.

That's a lot of preparation for a 9-year old! This kid just loves it though and works very hard. Of all my students taking exams this spring, he was the best prepared, had his pieces memorized the longest.

Now he wants a few summer lessons -- so he can learn the themes from Star Wars and Superman in his new pops book (a reward from his Mom for taking the exam), and we can do more "jamming", improvising and composing in rock/blues styles. He just loves this aspect of his lessons, but we had to let it go for a few months to prepare for the exam. You can only cover so much in a half-hour lesson once a week!

Anyway, that's an example of what classical training is all about, at least the way I teach it. It's definitely not "harming" him in any way -- to the contrary, it's giving him a very well-rounded and fun musical education.

Thanks for the opportunity to share this success story!

daylia


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Peterr
Date: 04 Jul 03 - 11:41 AM

Fascinating thread - so many thoughts spring to mind reading it. Bev & Jerrys point is so good, and is better than the one I use 'the music has to be in your fingers, not your head'
My daughter has been brought up with folk, has a music degree, and that really helps with learning tunes. eg in sessions 'Whats that tune?' she'll jot the name down, start playing it at home as soon as she finds the dots and will then play it out after a week or so when it's in her fingers. Incidentally, she plays mainly recorder and I'd like some people who think it's second best to a tin whistle to hear her belting out reels or caressing a slow air, but thats off the subject.
Playing for dance is just so important for trad tunes, and an ability to play technically demanding music as classical musicians do does not necessarily give them the ability to keep a strict tempo.
Anyone recall the wonderful programmes with Menuhin playing alongside Grapelli, and some Shetland fiddlers (Tom Anderson?)
I just wish I'd learned to play much earlier in life, and then I might have some idea about what it's like to play classical.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 04 Jul 03 - 11:49 AM

Jim Dixon,

Abandon hope.

Been there. Can't do it.

There are just too many fundamental pre/misconceptions going on here.

For the sake of simplicity I will focus on fiddling and "violining".

Perhaps the most fundamental and insidious misconception (IMHO) is the one that views traditional fiddling as bad or poor or at least lesser violin playing.

If you begin with the assumption that traditional fiddlers and classically trained violinists are doing (or trying to do) essentially the same thing and have essentially the same goals, then QED it is patently obvious that classically trained violinists and/or classical training have something to offer to trad fiddlers and fiddling.

But if you DON'T start from there, then the conclusion doesn't follow at all. You can actually start making sense of the notion that classical training could be an obstacle to getting trad fiddling "right".

Abandoning the first starting point and getting to the 2nd is not easy. Probably cannot talk anybody into it. It is more a "you gotta be there" kind of intuition.

Discussions like this always have faint, but to my ears unmistakable, echoes of cultural imperialism. You basically get lots of variations on, "If they'd just stand up straight and put the violin in the right place and hold the bow correctly and work on that scratchiness, they'd sound so much better."

Don't even get me started about singing.

If you cannot win. Change the rules.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 04 Jul 03 - 12:02 PM

Guest Russ: Please elaborate on your experience. Are you a folk fiddler? Did someone tell you to "stand up straight" etc.? Who was it? A fellow band member? What happened next?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: katlaughing
Date: 04 Jul 03 - 01:14 PM

All I can say is thank gawd I had my dad fiddling in my ear AND my violin teacher doing such a good job of teaching me technique, feel for the music, and being sensitive enough to play well with others. Both have stood me in good stead AND, I believe, my dad's fiddling, as well as my mom and her brothers' improv and trad on the piano and various other instruments helped me to never feel strict about my violin playing. On the contrary, people used to tease me that I really wanted to play "gypsy" music because of the passion they saw in my bowing and body language. It was difficult to get kids in orchestras bold enough to use their whole bows back then. I always got high marks in solo competitions because I ran out of bow I used the whole thing so much!

My point is, I played in school orchestras and in a municipal one, plus won a scholarship to a mucky-muck classical camp one year. I hated what they tried to make us do there, but in the orchestras I always felt as though I was valued as an individual player and I never did feel constrained by any regimentation. Rather it was a joy to hear and *feel* the beauty of the combined voices, the clarity of the interpretation when all voices were one in a blending of glorious tones, knowing that WE were the ones making that sound. It was good CRACK when it happened and felt magical. I was first chair in a quartet also and really enjoyed giving the lead in it, but again we all have individual parts and had a blast.

My other point is, sorry for being so rambly about this, is there is another way to look at it, from how I grew up, my dad's fiddling gave my classical an invaluable basis. I'd heard it from birth, took up the violin at 8 yrs old, so...the early will out and did nothing but enhance the classical. It has also stuck with me even though I don't get much of a chance to use it; or either one for that matter.

Daylia, you should be proud of yourself as a teacher, as well as be proud of your student. That's wonderful to hear!

kat


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: *daylia*
Date: 04 Jul 03 - 02:38 PM

"Rather it was a joy to hear and *feel* the beauty of the combined voices, the clarity of the interpretation when all voices were one in a blending of glorious tones, knowing that WE were the ones making that sound. It was good CRACK when it happened and felt magical."

Oh, I agree kat! I miss singing in the choirs like I used to in school, it's such a wonderful "raising" of glorious energy! What I liked about it most was that you knew were in tune if you couldn't pick out your own voice from all the others around you. IT's like a mystical connection somehow, finding that "perfect" place where everyone joins as one voice, and the "borders" that separate us dissolve.

Sheesh, I've almost convinced myself to join the "Sweet Adelines" - a women's acappella choir - this fall. One of my student's Moms is vice-president of the group and has been after me for ages to join. Hmmmmmm - thanks for the inspiration, kat!

" Daylia, you should be proud of yourself as a teacher, as well as be proud of your student. That's wonderful to hear!"

Thanks for that too, kat. I am pleased with myself as a teacher too, but I do know that I use the same methods and attitudes with all of my students, and they are all certainly not "First Class Honours" material, because they don't put enough effort into it. Neal loves it all - the technique and classical pieces as well as the theory - and especially the rock and pop and composing we do together. It's so rewarding to have a student who practices hard, does what I ask and loves his lessons. I wish they were all like that!

And the fact that he has a naturally "good ear" does have more than a little to do with it too!

daylia


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST,Tunesmith
Date: 04 Jul 03 - 04:12 PM

Slightly off the point - but not much. Do Classical Music Colleges give lessons in improvisation? If not - why not?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Don Firth
Date: 04 Jul 03 - 04:54 PM

A clarification:

"Classical training, for the most part, means training to be part of an orchestra."

Within my experience (three years at the University of Washington School of Music and two years at the Cornish School of the Arts), I never met a freshman music student whose initial ambition was not to become a concert soloist. Then someplace along the line it becomes obvious that some of them just don't have the talent, technical facility (usually limited by one's physical attributes), or the drive and ambition that being a concert artist demands That's just the way it goes. Sometimes their teachers or professors had to break the news to them, but more often than not, they figured that out on their own. Then they decided to shoot for whatever they considered to be the next best alternative, which might be playing in a small ensemble such as a string quartet, early music group, or something like that—or a symphony orchestra, if they can make it. Being a concert soloist or a member of a group like, say, the Mukilteo String Quartet or the Tukwila Baroque Ensemble involves the hassles of getting bookings, spending a lot of time on the road, that sort of thing. Being a symphony musician is a steady job, not much traveling, and far fewer hassles. Some of them feel downright relieved at the prospect. Some, mostly singers and keyboard players, find careers in liturgical music and become church musicians. Some decide to make careers in other kinds of music, and often find that their classical training has given them a substantial edge.

"Individual expression is antithetical to orchestral music—and choir music, which is the equivalent for voice. If there is to be any expression, that's what the conductor is for."

This is as it should be. The orchestra (or the choir) is the instrument, and the primary player of this instrument is the conductor. The conductor is not just some yahoo off the street. This is a person with a vast body of musical knowledge and experience. Otherwise the orchestra wouldn't hire him. His purpose is to determine and interpret the intentions of the composers whose music they intend to present—Beethoven, Berlioz, Mozart, Copland, Gershwin, whoever—and tune, train, coach, and rehearse the orchestra until they can best express the composer's intention. The individual musician's job is to do his or her utmost to carry out the composer's intentions as interpreted and explained by the conductor. It's a cooperative effort. Any musical group (including folk) is a cooperative effort. The individual musician may disagree with the conductor's interpretation, but he or she sets that aside in the spirit of cooperation and a desire to strive for the good of the orchestra or group as a whole. In a different context, that's called "teamwork."

In Making It with Music (Harper and Row, New York, 1978), Kenny Rogers says that with any group, you have to have a leader or "musical director" who lays things out, does the arrangements, or at least okays them, sees to the lead sheets, and makes the final musical decisions. Otherwise, groups tend to degenerate into chaos, and soon—no group.

When I was at the U. of W. School of Music, a young woman named Ruth Lewis had written a short opera (about an hour) as her Masters' Thesis project. The University staged it. The opera called for a small orchestra (about two dozen musicians) with a fairly unusual mix of instruments, including a classic guitar. Since I was the only classic guitarist in the department at the time (although my main interest was folk music), the job fell to me. During the rehearsals, the goal of all of the musicians was to play Ruth's music the way she wanted it played. She spent a lot of time conferring with the conductor, and the conductor explained to us what Ruth wanted. We really liked Ruth, we were rooting for her, and we worked our little butts off! At the end of the performance, the audience applauded like crazy, and some faculty members who took a dim view of woman composers and who had opposed the project were surprised at how good it turned out.   Ruth was tickled pink and she got her Masters in Music Composition. Believe me, there is a lot of satisfaction in this kind of playing, and in no way did it inhibit my ability to do my own thing! I feel like I gained a lot from this experience.

Because of friendships made back then, I know several musicians who play in the Seattle Symphony. They all feel a great deal of pride that within recent years, under the baton of Gerard Schwarz, the Seattle Symphony has come to be regarded as a world-class symphony orchestra. I don't know any of these musicians who regard themselves as oppressed and unfulfilled.

"One thing that classically trained musicians miss out on is playing for dances."

Most early music, say Elizabethan era, was dance music. Go through a list of suites put together by Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporaries, and you find they are made up of titles like Branlé, Gavotte, Pavane, Allemande, and Minuet. These are all dances. And they're dances that were danced in the royal courts and manor houses, and often in the town square. Much early music is built around dance forms, and much classical music grew out of this. Many of the Seattle Symphony musicians I know also play in the orchestra that backs up the Pacific Northwest Ballet. I know that's not the kind of dancing you had in mind, but if the musicians didn't lay down some pretty solid rhythms, the dancers would get mighty ticked off at them. Rhythm in general: classical music wouldn't hold together without it. If you are really under the impression that classical music de-emphasizes rhythm, what can I say but try listening to some. Try listening to a couple of Rossini overtures, for example, and if you don't wind up tapping your foot, then somebody should close your eyes and fold your arms across your chest.

I'm not trying to honk on you, Jim. I'm just trying to clear up some apparent misconceptions.

And Tunesmith, yes they do. Most university music schools have jazz departments. But more to the point, if one spends much time at all playing early music, and it's pretty hard these days to escape from a music school without spending a fair amount of time involved in early music, improvisation is not just allowed, it's essential.

Before 1800, classical and traditional music were much more closely associated, with much more blurry boundaries than most people believe. These days, people who play much early music need to actually create about fifty percent of the music they play, because that's all the written notes they have to work from. Oftentimes all that is written down is a melody and a suggested bass line. The original intent was that it would be played by a small group or "consort" made up of a variety of instruments (unspecified in the manuscript) such as recorders, viols, lutes, citterns, whatever was at hand, all sitting around a table, reading the notes that were there, and improvising their own parts. Each group that plays a particular piece plays it its own way, and often each time they play it, it's different from the previous time. And these were not professional groups. They were usually a group of friends getting together for an evening of playing music. Sound familiar?

That's pretty much the way groups like the Baltimore Consort do it now.

Don Firth


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Frankham
Date: 04 Jul 03 - 07:47 PM

Some make up stuff as they go along and others play what they've memorised. Either way, the music has to be re-created in performance to make it communicate. Even those who read from a score have to re-create their music. They have to breathe life into it.

There are a lot of would-be artists painting by numbers.

My point: any amount of musical discipline toward any style helps when the musician studies another style. If it doesn't work, it just means the musician hasn't done enough homework.

Alan Lomax and I had discussions about European "art" music versus American traditional folk music. I have come to the conclusion that Alan was so dedicated to his "vision" that he may have missed something that comes about when one studies classical music. Studying theory and composition opens some doors when it comes to interpreting any kind of music. If it's well-assimilated, it doesn't get in the way because all that it means is understanding rules that were created to be broken. There are no immutable laws in music.

The music comes first and then someone writes a rulebook.

Frank Hamilton

Frank Hamilton


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Deckman
Date: 04 Jul 03 - 09:09 PM

Very well said! Bob


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST,Guest-Marthabees
Date: 05 Jul 03 - 01:01 AM

One of my music teaching buds, a jr. high band director in a very small town, was wandering around a grocery store when he overheard one of his students remark to a woman, "Look, Mom. It's Mr. Copeland. He knows music!" Not "he teaches music," but "he KNOWS music."

I think "he knows music" pretty well says it all. If you know music, you probably have solid grounding in many aspects of music from listening to it, creating it, to performing it, to critiquing it, to understanding it, to analyzing it, etc., etc. These activities are not unique to "classical" musicians. In one form or another, they are apparent in the great musicians of every culture and style.

There are certain qualities of excellence that show up in every music in the world. There are also parameters of allowed variability in those qualities in each style of music.

If you KNOW music, you know the differences.

Accurate pitch, accurate rhythm, accurate ensemble playing, accurate stylistic nuances, accurate vocal timbres and habits are all valued in all musics.

If you KNOW music, you probably also have had some kind of training with a mentor, be it listening to Dad's fiddle group and getting individual help from him or studying with Wynton Marsalis.

If you KNOW music, you probably have an aesthetic response to music and want to express it yourself in a way pleasing to both yourself and others.

If you KNOW music, you probably have an understanding of how it works - that's called theory.

If you KNOW music, you probably have experienced a depth and breadth of the music that you know. That could be called music history.

A good musician knows another good musician. The basics of good technique, artistic interpretation, creativity and musicianship are evident with Itzhak Perlman, Baba Olatunji, Jean Richey, and Little Richard.

Where we get into trouble is when we start comparing the stylistic differences with an attitude of 'better' or 'worse'.

So, in the symphonic world, some of the slightly off-pitch notes or scrape-y sounds of a poorly resined bow that are more tolerated in the folk world are indeed less tolerated in the "classical" world.
Your mileage will vary depending on the group's expectations and traditions.

So if a person doesn't know the stylistic characteristics of African music and how it is directly tied to American music, the listener may not understand and appreciate the spontaneity or pitch variation of singers in a gospel choir.

It's not good or bad, lots of times, but rather it is different.

Those who presume to say a whole style of music is bad can safely be ignored. And those who say that a fiddler is less a musician than a violinist may also be ignored. That is IMHO just ignorance showing.

Different, yes. Better or worse? That depends on if those musicians KNOW music or if they're just (excuse me) fiddlin' around.

Martha in Tallahassee


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Don Firth
Date: 05 Jul 03 - 02:04 AM

Frank, Martha--good stuff!

Don Firth


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 05 Jul 03 - 10:37 AM

Jim Dixon,
(If you are still listening)

I am a (lowly) old time banjo player not a fiddler.

It's taken me a long time to get to where my thinking currently is about the relation of fiddling to violining. What I gave was a very rough sketch of the evolution of my own thinking.

To get really abstract about why I gave you the advice I gave you:

Here's the basic problem. You have an insight, hunch, gut feeling, whatever. You are trying to verbalize it. If you try to use the technical vocabulary of the "classical music establishment" to talk and your own inadequate knowledge of classical training to explain you are screwed.
The people you are talking to won't be able to get beyond your misuse of the words or your ignorance of their context. Every exchange becomes an attempt to correct you. You never get to talk about the reality behind the words.

Second,
People hold tenaciously to their presuppositions. Thus when they are called into question a normal response is: Affirm the general, deny the particular.
For example, suppose I presuppose that voice training can help anybody no matter what they sing or plan to sing (general).
Further suppose that Russ cite's the unfortunate results of his wife's voice training as an example where the presupposition is clearly wrong (specific).
The normal response of the presupposition holder is to explain away the apparent exception (deny the specific). The instructor didn't teach right, or the instructor didn't make certain things clear, or my wife misunderstood what she was taught, or my wife didn't properly apply what she was taught etc. etc. etc.

Russ


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: John P
Date: 05 Jul 03 - 11:18 AM

My experience is that some folk musicians have classical training, and some don't. The ones who do usually have a bigger bag of tricks to bring to the music. I like working with them because they can often learn music faster, talk about technical matters more succintly, and play in keys other than D and G.

There are also lots of musicans, classically trained or not, who are not folk musicians. Folk musicians are people who play folk music and make it sound like folk music. I don't care much to listen to people, of whatever training or lack thereof, who play folk music but don't know how to make it sound like folk music. It just doesn't sound right. But the idea that a musician would automatically be disqualified by classical training is both silly and elitist.

John Peekstok


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST,Kim C no cookie
Date: 05 Jul 03 - 08:51 PM

Daylia, in plain ol' fiddling, we can get away with playing "wrong" notes, simply because fiddle tunes tend to have more than one "right" version. I don't think any two fiddlers will play, say, "Billy in the Lowground" exactly the same way.

This has been an interesting discussion.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: *daylia*
Date: 06 Jul 03 - 03:24 PM

" ... in plain ol' fiddling, we can get away with playing "wrong" notes, simply because fiddle tunes tend to have more than one "right" version ... "

AH, Kim -- thanks for clearing that up. I wasn't distinguishing between "fiddle" and "violin" in your original message, I see. My viola teacher (who was a classical violinist himself) used to call my instrument an "axe", and all violins were "fiddles"...

Having "more than one right version" is one definite advantage to playing a style of music that does not rely on the written score!

I sometimes regret that I stopped playing viola, especially when I remember the absolutely awesome version of the "Orange Blossom Special" I heard my teacher play, at a bluegrass festival the last time I heard him perform on stage. That blew me away -- and here I'd thought all he could play was concertos and such ....

daylia


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Deckman
Date: 06 Jul 03 - 04:48 PM

John and Dalia's last comments make me want to add something else ... hope I'm not too boring. About a dozen years ago, my friend Lauren was hired as guest violin soloist to perform with a local orchestra. He flew up to Washington state from California and we took advantage of this to have a good visit. He was in town for about a week, rehearsing and visiting with the conductor. I came over to where he was staying and we had a few days visits also. He insisted that I bring my guitar. After the final concert, we all went to the conductor's home for a party. Neither the Orchestra conductor, or any of the musicians knew me, but as was Lauren's friend, I was made very welcome. As we started to relax, out came the instruments. Of course the Conductor's living room had a full grand piano there, and in no time, the music started. I had the time of my life. Every possible kind of music was heard that night: Jazz, trumpet solos, folksongs, classical guitar, ragtime, you name, it was there. But what really astounded me was the quality of the guitar playing that happened as my instrument was passed around the room. It happens to be a very fine old Martin, and everyone admired it. Before long, the oboe player was doing Villa Lobos on it, the Conductor played jazz on it, Lauren did some stuff on it. I think I can remember doing a little piano work too ... of course Brandy helps in social situations like this! In closing, I'll say that I think the only people that know how to party better than proffessional musicians are ... schoolteachers! (but that's another thread). CHEERS, Bob


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST,marthabees
Date: 06 Jul 03 - 05:06 PM

thread drift here..........

Gee, Bob -
You said: In closing, I'll say that I think the only people that know how to party better than proffessional musicians are ... schoolteachers! (but that's another thread).

So what does that say about teachers who teach music ?!?
As one of those, I think you may be correct!

Martha in Tallahassee


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Deckman
Date: 06 Jul 03 - 05:25 PM

Martha, if I started telling you of some of the music teachers' parties I've been too, two things would happen: Max would require more bandwidth; and Joe Offer would cancel my subscription! CHEERS, Bob


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Frankham
Date: 06 Jul 03 - 05:28 PM

Teaching folk music seems to defy the classical approach to pedagogy. It becomes less a function of interpreting a composer and more about understanding the history and cultural background of a song. It's also about making music accessible to others.

Fortunately, today, the elitist approach to music education is breaking down. It has to. Garage bands, strumming on the beach,singing along to the radio and CDs, dancing to music all contribute to another approach toward music education. Jazz has gained respect. Improvisation is encouraged more. People are aware of "world" music. So the old model of the conventional music school doesn't work as well any more.

Most old-style music schools prepare you to teach the way you were taught there and not prepare the musician in the exigencies of the work world. The old elitist attitudes prevail in most of musical academia which include dissing the working musician in other than the classical field. But today, if you want to learn to play the music of your choice, there are many teachers who can help you that are not accredited music school grads. In many ways, these teachers might be more qualified to introduce a student to folk music.

The classical approach is only one way to learn music. It may help some and hinder others depending on the attitude toward it. If it's divested of the elitism of the old-style music schools it can be a teaching aid for other musical styles. But it won't necessarilly get you a gig.

Frank Hamilton


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 06 Jul 03 - 05:58 PM

Russ, you are absolutely right. At least, it fits my experience. And the experience of some close friends of mine, whose band broke up, leaving bad feelings all around. Three of the four members got sick and tired of dealing with the one who answered every difference of opinion, every question of taste, every intuitive feeling, with an argument based on music theory. She won almost every battle, owing to her tenacity and her superior knowledge, but lost the war, because nobody wanted to play with her any more. Sad but true.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 06 Jul 03 - 07:01 PM

Jim,

I am truly sorry to hear about your bad experience. I know a few classically trained violinist who truly "get it" when it comes to traditional fiddling and they are a joy to play with.

If you are not already familiar with it, you might enjoy "Twelve questions violinists ask about fiddling"
at
http://www.dhebert.com/publications/fiddleFAQ.html

Russ


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST
Date: 06 Jul 03 - 07:46 PM

...interesting bit of trivia: Segovia was self-taught.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Deckman
Date: 06 Jul 03 - 08:39 PM

Guest ... I would like to gently throw this thought out: The very first time I held a guitar in my hands at age 10, I was "self taught." The very first time I saw a chord diagram, or someone showed me how to tune it, or showed me a chord, I was no longer "self taught." I doubt, very much, that the wonderful Segovia, lived his life without anyone showing (teaching) him something. Bob


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 06 Jul 03 - 08:49 PM

Russ: Thanks for the link. I found it fascinating reading, although I'm not a fiddler. It's just encouraging to know that there's someone out there who can speak intelligently about both classical and folk styles and respects both. I think I'll pass it on to some fiddler friends of mine.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST
Date: 06 Jul 03 - 11:50 PM

Perhaps what Segovia meant by being self taught was that he never had any "formal training." Sure, he picked up a few things here and there from people like Lloblet. But just because someone showed him how to tune a guitar or make a G chord doesn't mean he was taught how to play the way he did. I think he did that on his own. In that sense, he was "self taught." Saying that he wasn't self taught because he learned a few fundamental things from people along the way is too strict a definition for me. I accept Segovia's claim that he was "self taught."


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST,Dustin
Date: 07 Jul 03 - 04:32 AM

Interesting thread. Some random responses to a bunch of different points by a bunch of different people.

I think Russ and that fiddle FAQ both touched on something important--you can't learn anything without respect for the music you want to learn and a willingness to meet it on its own terms. It goes both ways. I don't think a folk musician who can't accept orchestral music as having its own reasons for doing what it does is any better off than a classical musician who regards folk music as "incorrect." The fun comes in learning why, and you can't learn why if you don't think there is a why to learn.

It's a bit astonishing to hear someone say that one simply must never unlearn "classical technique" to play non-classical music. I can't speak for piano, but I'm curious if anyone advocates playing acoustic blues guitar in the classical position and forbids blues guitarists to use fingerpicks, steel strings, or their thumb to fret the low "E" string, or playing classical guitar on a Dobro with a flatpick. I find it difficult to understand anyone saying that either Gary Davis or Segovia was using the wrong technique for what they did. Better to ask why, I think.

There wasn't much differentiation between "classical technique" and being able to sight-read standard notation. When someone says "classical technique," I think of things like rest strokes vs. free strokes, wrist positions, and so on. Sight-reading is a different animal, I'd say, and certainly not the sum total of "classical technique." That must be true for any instrument. Oh, well--at least newer method books are less likely to have a section on notation titled "the rudiments of music" rather than something like "the rudiments of musical notation."

I don't think that learning some classical technique or sight-reading is a bad thing, but there are an awful lot of teachers out there teaching either or both without teaching much music. The fact that classical music has a developed pedagogy allows a lot of idiots to inflict rote playing on their students (my mother used to teach ear playing to the products of that kind of instruction). Is that worse than the lack of a fixed pedagogy allowing a lot of idiots to teach folk guitar as thrashing on a few open chords? I dunno, but in my book turning someone off to music is a pretty serious crime.

Dustin


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Don Firth
Date: 07 Jul 03 - 01:25 PM

The truth* about Andrés Segovia:—

Self-taught? A myth.

When little Andrés (age four) heard a guitar for the first time, he wanted to learn to play one. His father (a church organist by profession) was pleased that he was interested in music, but put the kibosh on the guitar because he felt it was the instrument of the gypsies and other undesirable people (thus displaying his ignorance of guitarists such as Fernando Sor, Francisco Tarrega, and a host of others). He wanted Andrés to learn a "legitimate" musical instrument like the piano or the violin. Andrés didn't take to these at all. He said that in his childhood view, a piano was a monster that screamed at you when you poked its teeth, and a violin was a creature that cried when you beat it with a stick. A guitar was an instrument that you could hold in your arms, and when you stroked and petted it, it made sweet sounds. He was adamant about wanting to learn to play the guitar and, as young as he was, he refused to give up.

The result of his father's objections to Andrés' learning the guitar was rather counterproductive, because whenever he got the chance, he would manage to hang out with the gypsies (the very people his father objected to) and get the gypsy (flamenco) guitarists to show him things. Apart from the extensive use of rasgueados, flamenco technique and classical technique are almost identical. How Segovia managed to get a guitar and spend enough time practicing, I'm not sure—but obviously, he did. He was probably so determined that his father gave in.

One would have thought that with his initial instruction on the guitar, he might have gone into flamenco, but his father's playing of classical music at home had its effect. That's the kind of thing Segovia wanted to play, but on the guitar. He got a copy of Dionisio Aguado's guitar method and carefully taught himself. Then he moved on to the studies of Fernando Sor, and by the time he was fifteen, he auditioned to enter the University of Madrid, where he learned music theory and all the rest of it.

Andrés Segovia was essentially self-taught as far as guitar technique is concerned, but to characterize him as totally self-taught is not accurate. He had a thoroughly grounded formal musical education.

I'm sorry, but one cannot justify the advantages of a lack of formal musical training by pointing to Segovia.

Don Firth

*I've forgotten many of the details, but I read all of this in a series of articles written by Segovia in the Guitar Review, an irregularly issued magazine put out by a group of New York classic guitar buffs in the Fifties and Sixties. It's publication was pretty sporadic, sometimes only one issue a year, and someplace along the line I lost track of it. Apparently, though, it's still truckin'. *TWANG*


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Thomas the Rhymer
Date: 07 Jul 03 - 03:23 PM

I am really enjoying this thread, and I've been thinking long and hard about these concepts for decades now, and the thoughts expressed here are actually helping me out of some of my own biases... Thanks, all!

I'd like to express myself more clearly, as I've discovered that while reading this thread, my original intentions are becoming clearer... as to why I needed to begin it.

John P's post is indeed a signpost for me, and hoping he will excuse me, I will use it as an example.

"Folk musicians are people who play folk music and make it sound like folk music. I don't care much to listen to people, of whatever training or lack thereof, who play folk music but don't know how to make it sound like folk music. It just doesn't sound right. But the idea that a musician would automatically be disqualified by classical training is both silly and elitist."

I have strong feelings come up in me when I read this...

The first is this... 'sounding like' folk music is an oxymoron for me. Either it is folk music, or not. People who try to 'sound like' a genera, in my opinion, are attempting perhaps to impersonate a culture by dressing the part without actually having lived it...

Does John P think he can tell us what 'folk music' sounds like? I would like to ask him to tell us just how he knows... before he 'doesn't care much to listen to us'... actually, I can imagine a scenario where John P packs up his judgements and leaves, while the rest of us enjoy the personal expressions of a supremely creative and expressive interpretaion...

...and, after making such judgemental assertions... with the self assurance of a snob in sheep's clothing... the cresciendo is achieved for me with the last declaration.

After reading this thread, I see little exposition on the topic of turning away classical trained individuals from a hearty and avid folk (a)vocation... and herein lies my mordant (mordent) personal drama... I find the pedantic nature of John' P's post to be not so very silly, but... quite elitist.

Hoping you all will excuse my ascerbic response here... I am doubting that any of you knew how strongly I felt about this topic, or how John P is peripherally connected to my need to start this thread...

For me, a lot of this is about the competition... or more specifically... the 'training' that occurs when a person is deluged with sophisticated learning that is steeped in a constantly competitive atmosphere. I believe that it is this undercurrent of a competitive ethos, even more than the 'deindividualisation' of the musician... that I am anxious to avoid. I have personally witnessed countless occasions of 'psychic undermining' and 'confidence sabatauge' by people who are basically good musicians... but since they have gone through a rigorously competitive system, part of what they have 'learned' is that music is about who 'wins'... and that subtile techniques for 'tweeking' other potential 'competitors' is expected and in some cases, researched...

My take on 'folk musicians' is that most of the time we want to encourage the 'best' in others, and the rest of the time, we are letting others find the best in ourselves... and one's right to be 'really good' is attested to and achieved only by how those around them feel about themselves...

Love to all, and all the best! ttr


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: katlaughing
Date: 07 Jul 03 - 04:59 PM

ttr, just one mention, while the classical world may have a lot of competition in it, folk is not without some of it, too. I am thinking specifically of a fiddlin' contest my dad entered in an area of the country with which he was unfamiliar. If the audience had been voting, he was the winner; they weren't, but they did tell him afterwards that the judges were buddies of the much poorer fiddler who did win, year after year, and apologised for that to him. It was enough to put him off forever from any type competition and that was when he was traveling around and playing out all of the time.

kat


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: *daylia*
Date: 07 Jul 03 - 05:53 PM

kat, I agree with you about folk musicians -- at least some of them -- being just as privy to the stifling woes and blocks of competition as any other kind of musician. Or any other profession, for that matter. Competitiveness is a part of the culture we are born and raised in. Fishermen have it, cooks have it, models have it, parents have it --- maybe even "sanitary engineers" have it!

Little Hawk, if you're reading this thread, please tell us about how you felt when you heard that excellent folk guitarist -- Moe Stevenson - play at the coffeehouse in Barrie a couple Fridays ago.

I consider Little Hawk a pretty good guitarist himself -- he's awesome on the harmonica too! But he said this fellow's playing made him feel jealous, "less than", discouraged about his own playing.

And I know how he feels. I've felt like that so many times in both folk and classical circles. My absolute love of making music saves me, though.

A few years ago I tried to convince the "powers that be" at the Barrie Music Festival (classical) to make the classes non-competitive. Give the kids a written critique of their playing, give them a "group lesson" as the adjudicator speaks to each one about their performance, give them each a ribbon or certificate to honor their efforts and participation -- but keep the marks private, and eliminate the out-dated (in my mind) concept of 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. That was what I wanted.

I've so many students who don't want to compete, but would benefit greatly just from having a stage to perform on, the opportunity to hear their peers and the chance to learn about music from someone other than me! And I'd seen enough crestfallen little faces, heard enough bitter comments like "So-and-so ALWAYS wins! I may as well not even go!" The worst is "Second place is the first loser". NO-ONE with the guts to perform on stage is any kind of "loser", imo!

Well, the "powers that be" at the Festival did listen to me, and suggested we poll our students to find out what was their preference - competitive or non-competitive classes. The results were, believe it or not, that the overwhelming majority of the kids DID want the competition! And the "powers that be" were much relieved -- that meant they didn't have to anything more brain-wrok than average out the marks to determine who won the (more-than-ample) money awards at the end of the Festival.

But of course, that's the absolutely greatest reward that musical training could have for children, according to the standard values and mores of Western culture -- the chance to be "better than" your neighbour - in public no less! - and make big bucks, right?? Money - the be-all and end-all. grumblegrumble AARRGGHHHH!

Thanks for the chance to "vent".

daylia


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Deckman
Date: 07 Jul 03 - 06:15 PM

Daylia, your comments struck another responsive note with me. For about 5 years, some years ago, I taught "beginning Guitar" at the local community college. As classes got rolling, and more and more interest resulted, I brought in more teachers, and lo and behold, we had a rather complete program of beginning, intermediate, advanced and blues guitar. I also expanded into "folk Music, history and performance skills." As the staff we built up became closer, we even put on five years of Folk Festivals. (I have to mention that this was with the great help and leadership of the late John Dwyer, Father of Stilly River Sage). Quite grand in all! I really enjoyed the teaching, especially the coming together of whole families and ages. I'd have grandparents and teenagers in the same class. One consistant challenge I had, was to try to overcome the student's feelings of doubt: "I can't sing, I'm no good, in grade school my music teacher told me to be quiet," on and on. One of the interesting aspects of this kind of teaching that I well remember was the complete ABSENCE of competition. It was almost universal that everyone felt somewhat inadequate. And in feeling inadequate themselves, they were very encouraging to everyone else and we all reveled in the growth. CHEERS, Bob


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Don Firth
Date: 07 Jul 03 - 06:37 PM

One of the best comments about competition that I have ever heard was made by Rolf Cahn during a conversation in a restaurant in Berkeley in 1959. Someone who was looking for singing jobs in the area asked him, "What's the competition like?" He answered as follows:—

"Competition? I don't know. I never think about competition. Look, I once had a chance to hang out with the Mercedes team during the thousand mile Mexican Road Race. There were Jaguars, Porsches, Ferraris, Allards, Cunninghams, they were all there. But during the strategy meetings, none of the other cars were even mentioned. All the Mercedes team talked about was how to get the Mercedes from point A to point B as fast and as safely as possible. I figured that there was a lesson there. So I don't waste my time and energy worrying about competition. I just try do the best that I can do."

During my time among classical musicians and music students, I found that there was less of a spirit of competition and more one of sharing information and knowledge and of helping each other. There were exceptions, of course, but those who tended to "be competitive" generally didn't get very far. They wasted their time and energy on the inconsequential. I've encountered about as much "competitive spirit" among singers of folk songs as I have among classical musicians. It's not the kind of music one plays or the milieu within which one plays it, it's more a matter of individual orientation. Be they classical, jazz, or folk, most of the really good musicians I have met simply want to do music, are eager to help others, and don't sweat the small stuff.

Auditions? Sure. You can think of them in terms of competition (and lots of people do), but that is really a waste of time, energy, and most importantly, concentration. Just go out there and play and/or sing the best you can. If you divert your attention from the music you're performing by worrying about how you compare with the other people there, you're just asking to be interrupted with a "Thank you, that will be all. Next, please!"

Just do the best that you can do, whatever and however you conceive that to be, and let the chips fall where they may.

Don Firth


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: *daylia*
Date: 07 Jul 03 - 06:48 PM

Bob, that's a very uplifting story! Congratulations to you and the rest of the staff for creating what sounds to me like a "nurturing" and fun music class which encouraged each student to develop their musical potential, whatever their 'natural' ability and regardless of their neighbour was capable of. That's what music is really all about -- it's "food" for the soul, body, mind and community that EVERYONE benefits from partaking in -- no matter what their level of ability!

Thanks for sharing this -- daylia


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 07 Jul 03 - 06:58 PM

Competitiveness is a complicated enough subject that it probably deserves a thread of its own.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 07 Jul 03 - 08:26 PM

Thomas,

As far as I can tell, John P. simply expressed a personal preference. Unfortunately he used a term, "folk music", that apparently pushed a button.

I think he's might have a point, so let me give it a try.

I avoid the term "folk music" except in special situations (but that's another thread). So I won't claim to know what "folk music" sounds like.

But I do know, for example, what central WV or Eastern KY fiddling sounds and should sound like. I assume that such counts as folk music.

To paraphrase John, I don't care much to listen to people, of whatever training or lack thereof, who play central WV tunes but don't know how to make it sound like central WV fiddling. For example, a good friend is awesome when she plays tunes from Eastern KY, but she's just not "convincing" when she tries a squirrelly old crooked tune from central WV.

You'll have to take my word for it that my dissatisfaction with her playing has nothing to do with her "attempting perhaps to impersonate a culture by dressing the part without actually having lived it." She's not from Eastern KY either. Anyway, I prefer not to say, as John says, "It just doesn't sound right." "Right" is just too loaded. That's why I used "convincing."

Now it probably wouldn't be easy to sound like a central WV fiddler without growing up with central WV fiddlers, but it is not apriori impossible. I know people who can do it. I also know people who cannot do it, some of whom happen to be from central WV.

I am willing to make a distinction between trying to sound like a central WV fiddler and trying to be a central WV fiddler (without actually being from central WV). I OK with the former but not the latter.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Thomas the Rhymer
Date: 07 Jul 03 - 08:56 PM

Hi Russ... thanks for the reply...

My tack is simply this... I feel that John's approach to his recent critique is, in this case, indicative of a more general trend amoungst many types of musical training... that the critisizms are most often distructive put downs rather than constructive attempts at empowerment, and that the competitive aspect found in classical training is partly responsible for this.

I feel that the musical training and devotion requisite to a powerful musical education is a fantastic accomplishment, and much to be admired... However, there is a shadow side to all that... and the cultural bias towards competition is one of them.

I am as self taught as I can be. I am vigillant, and proud... I do not hold education against the indoctrinated, nor do I need to put down new tallent... I wish everyone well, and I try to offer constructive input, while making sure that I'm not being 'catty'...

I believe that there are far too few musicians per capita in our country, and this competition 'crappola' is probably one of the main reasons...

Seems people are accepting the 'rat race' more and more these days...

See ya! ...and say something nice, ...OK? ttr


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Stewart
Date: 07 Jul 03 - 11:17 PM

Hi Tom, I just have to come to the defense of John P. I think you read him wrong or John wrote it wrong. He's really a first-class musician who plays traditional and old music, mostly British Isles and French, in a very good way (even gets paid for it). And he's also a very friendly, non-judgmental, non-competitive guy. I think you'd like him if you met him. We could talk about it at the next session.

About competition - I was introduced at an open mic recently as someone who had retired and now has lots of time for music. I then said something about my new career as an unemployed musician (something I prefer, and can now afford). One of my musician friends in the audience, with a great sense of humor, piped up and said "but there's a lot of competition there."

Cheers, S. in Seattle


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Thomas the Rhymer
Date: 08 Jul 03 - 12:26 AM

Hi Stewart!

Yes, I have to stick up for John P too! ...and my appologies to him if he or anyone else takes my analysis of his post as a personal attack of some (un)kind...

Having had the pleasure of meeting him, and hearing his fine music, I am in full agreement with you.

Also, I must say, that competitiveness is at least as rampant in my own 'go it self taught' approach to the music I do, ...as any classically trained person's...

That being said, I do feel wonderous strong about the folk community's need to be supportive and enjoyable... for all who might pick up an instrument someday, as well as for those who play with a flair in front of a room full of appreciation. Everyone has room for improvement, and the more we know, the more obvious it is to us that we have so much to learn...

Cheerio! ttr


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: John P
Date: 08 Jul 03 - 10:26 AM

Thomas,
    I don't know how you pulled any hint of competitive music out of my post, but I can assure you that I don't use to music to compete on any level. I speak out against musical competitions in any organization I'm involved in that starts leaning that way. I see music as a way of sharing, and get turned off whenever I see pros getting professionally competitive, or session players playing musical one-upmanship games.
    I can also assure you that my definition of "what sounds like folk music" is extremely broad. Even though I play mostly traditional folk music, there is nothing of the traditionalist about me. Folk music spreads a vast and, fortunately, usually very inclusive umbrella.
    Never having had any formal musical training (except, a little, as a percussionist in high school), I am usually in awe of people who can get the kind of versatility out of their instruments that classical training can bring. I am envious of people who can sight read music. I have had the good fortune to play with some very highly trained classical musicians who are great folk musicians. Also some great folk musicians with no training at all. And every where in between.
    I'm sure that a lot of people here have had the experience of listening to an Irish reel played on a violin without any lilt. It sounds pretty flat, and loses the rhythm that makes the tune what it is. Another classic example is a folk song with a conatgious rhythm being turned into an art song by an operatically trained singer. Or blues played without the subtle syncopations that make it sound like the blues. I will defend to my last breath the right of any musician to play any music in whatever way turns their crank. But that doesn't mean I enjoy listening to it all, or that it meets my private aesthetic of what any genre of music ought to sound like. Or that I will be willing to spend much time playing along.
    I find myself at a bit of a disadvantage here. You seem to know me, but I can't place you, at least not by the moniker "Thomas the Rhymer". Is there another name I would likely know you by, and where have we met?

John Peekstok


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Thomas the Rhymer
Date: 08 Jul 03 - 11:08 AM

Hi John! I assure you it is I that is at the disadvantage here, having picked apart the peck you posted... I was pickled by what came across... and used it as an example... I love your music, and I really appreciated your post immediately above... thanks for the clarity.

I have seen your work with Telynor a few times, much to my delight, and spoken with you casually thereof... I am a Ballad singer, broadly a UK DADGAD accompanyist, and Hammered Dulcimer enthusiast ...I made the dulcimers I play.

I have been playing with a very fine multi-instrumentalist for some years now, but I am taking time out to process a few of my 'issues'... like this one. I am currently playing with a wonderful 'Sligo' style Irish fiddler.

Thank you for responding with such earnestness, and I'm sorry for the projection of my own issues... Good Luck! ttr


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: *daylia*
Date: 08 Jul 03 - 12:59 PM

"...those who tended to "be competitive" generally didn't get very far. They wasted their time and energy on the inconsequential".

"Be they classical, jazz, or folk, most of the really good musicians I have met simply want to do music, are eager to help others, and don't sweat the small stuff."

"Just do the best that you can do, whatever and however you conceive that to be, and let the chips fall where they may."


Don, I just want to say that I've really enjoyed and appreciated all of your insights here. Thanks so much for giving your time and energy to this thread, and for just being who you are!

Thank you too, ttr, for starting this valuable and interesting discussion. And to everyone else for your great contributions!

daylia


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: hesperis
Date: 08 Jul 03 - 02:27 PM

It's definitely not classical training that is the problem, but societal factors such as elitism and competitiveness.

I'm had people be elitist about jazz, saying that French Horn can't play jazz because it's not a jazz instrument! What the?

Some people are inclusive and some people aren't. It doesn't matter what they play, it's how they play.

Yes, you are more likely to find elitism in a more formal training situation, however there is a form of "reverse" snobbery practiced by people who think that informal and untrained music is superior precisely because it's informal and untrained.

Music is about having fun, loving music, and getting better every time you play. Nothing more and nothing less.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: greg stephens
Date: 08 Jul 03 - 03:05 PM

I've played with loads of musicians with classical training, and loads who didnt. neither group is consistently better at playing folk music in my opinion(and of course its only my opinion,that always needs saying. There are plenty of widely admired musicians that bore the arse off me).
   Having said that, I do strongly believe it is very very very difficult for a classically trained musician to play folk music. Of course they are wonderful at sight reading and playing all the notes in tune in the right order. But so what? That is only the first step on a long road.
   Equally, of course it is difficult for a folk musician to learn to play classical music. The approach is totally different.We are all used to the agonies of hearing opera singers doing recital versions of folk songs, or virtuuso classical violinists doing a little daring jazz with Stefane Grappelli (yawn yawn). Technique doesnt get you very far in folk or jazz, you've got to understand music to play it. And that takes time, and sometimes you have to take time unlearning a lot of stuff before you can learn something new.
   Any good classical fiddler could play Orange Blossom Special or the Mason's Apron twice as fast and twiddly as any primitive old folkie. Whether you'ld actually want to hear them do it twice is the point.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Jen M
Date: 08 Jul 03 - 04:58 PM

As the mother of a child who will start this fall at Penn State, music education, I've found this discussion interesting. She loves all things musical--from playing classical french horn (By the way Hesperis, when she insisted on being allowed to play in the jazz ensemble ,the director tried to make her play mellophone instead!)to the penny whistle and dulcimer and singing. (She dreams of having an alphorn as well.) She's formally trained on the horn and self taught on the others. The formal training has made learning other instruments easier. By the way, she refused to audition for any conservatory based program. She felt the competition would take all the fun out of music and says she's just not THAT obsessed with her horn. I think whatever one's training, the love of music is what makes a true musician.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Don Firth
Date: 08 Jul 03 - 08:22 PM

Thanks, Daylia.

This is kind of a hobby-horse of mine, and I tend to get a bit tooted up about it. When I first started out, I was musically illiterate. I couldn't read music and I didn't even know what a chord was, other than a way of splaying your fingers out on a fingerboard, so I couldn't learn songs from song books. I had to learn them from other people or from records—and at the time I started (early Fifties, well before the Great Folk Scare got under way), there were not that many records of folk songs readily available. And unless someone showed me what chords to play, I was at a loss.

I thoroughly enjoyed singing folk songs (at least the songs that I did know), and people seemed to enjoy listening to me sing them (or, at least, they were very tolerant). So I made a really dumb decision: I decided I wanted to become a "professional singer of folk songs" like Burl Ives or Richard Dyer-Bennet. The field wasn't that crowded (yet), but what made it such a dumb idea was that I wanted to make a career in music when I didn't know anything about music. My voice was sort of okay and I could play most of the basic chords on the guitar (learned from Guckert's Chords for Guitar Without Notes or Teacher), but I didn't know anything about how to work out accompaniments. I started taking voice lessons to tidy up some of its rough edges, and classic guitar lessons so that I could learn to use my fingers efficiently and find out what that terra incognita above the third fret was all about. Then I enrolled in music theory classes at the university so I could get a clue about how to put all this together. Some of my folk singing buddies told me that if I wanted to do folk music, this was absolutely the wrong way to go. If I learned "classical," I would never be able to do folk music. In fact, one or two got downright hostile at the idea. But I went ahead and did it anyway.

In 1957, I had a chance to meet and talk with Richard Dyer-Bennet. He was very supportive and encouraging, and told me to keep right on doing what I was doing. So I did. In 1959, I got tapped to do a television series on our local educational channel (now the local PBS affiliate). That was a bit of a break. I spent the next several years doing concerts, doing more television, and singing in clubs and coffeehouses almost every weekend, and in general, getting paid to do something that I would have done anyway. I stuck pretty close to the Pacific Northwest, so I didn't become one of the "biggies" during the Great Folk Scare, but that wasn't what I was all about anyway. I still sing (parties, hoots, festivals, and such), but I don't do it professionally anymore. I figure that, all in all, I haven't done too badly for a guy who was as ignorant as I was when I first started.

I take a dim view of people who try to discourage others from taking lessons or say that formal training will spoil you for folk music. If I had followed some of the advice I was given, I wouldn't have gotten anywhere. I probably would have spent my life hunched over a drafting table at Boeing. No singing career, no nuthin'! When I look back on what could have happened (or, rather, not happened) with me, I get kinda mad when I hear people say things like that.

But what really makes my blood boil is when some performing singer of folk songs advises newbies to avoid lessons, claiming that they never had any musical training—and then I find out that they're shining people on. One of the guys who tried to discourage me from taking lessons gave me the story that he had never had music lessons, couldn't read music, and hardly knew one chord from another. Years later I learned—from his sister—that he had taken nine years worth of violin lessons when he was a kid! Now, what the hell was that all about!!??? I call that competitive! And this happens more often than you might think!

When I sing, do I sound like Richard Dyer-Bennet? I couldn't even if I wanted to. First, he was a light, lyric tenor, a tenore leggiero (not a counter-tenor as some people say) and I'm a "bullfrog-in-a-rain barrel" bass-baritone. Second, I usually keep my guitar accompaniments pretty simple—but I can get pretty flashy if the spirit moves me. I can play a few classical guitar solos and I do play a few lute-style accompaniments when I think they're appropriate, like, say, on ballads such as The Three Ravens. When it comes to deciding the best way to put a song across, my formal training doesn't limit me, it lets me make choices.

Richard Dyer-Bennet said, "The value lies inherent in the song, not in the regional mannerisms or colloquialisms. No song is ever harmed by being articulated clearly, on pitch, with sufficient control of phrase and dynamics to make the most of the poetry and melody, and with an instrumental accompaniment designed to enrich the whole effect."

Yup. Works for me.

Don Firth


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Deckman
Date: 08 Jul 03 - 09:43 PM

Geeze Don! I just wish you'd get SERIOUS about your music! Bob


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Mark Clark
Date: 09 Jul 03 - 01:29 AM

Thirty years ago in Chicago there was a place on Belmont Avenue called the Nashville Skyline Lounge. It was a medium rough sort of place—someone did start shooting while I was in there one night—with a three-piece country band that held forth most nights. A lot of the musicians would stop in there after their regular gigs just to hear this band. The guitarist was truly wonderful and would play absoutely anything you asked him to play. If he didn't know the song you requested he'd pull the score out of a large case he carried and sight read it for you. He had every popular style down and played perfectly and effortlessly and with great innovation.

It turned out the saloon gig was only to support his daytime activity which was the formal study of classical guitar. There was absoutely nothing about his country band performance to hint that he was anything but a good ol' boy who lived and breathed country music. I never got to hear one of his classical recitals but I've always thought it would have been impressive.

I'm with Don and the others who believe there is no amount of learning that is going to hurt your playing. You may not choose to use everything you've learned in every performance you do but the training and theory can only help.

      - Mark


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 09 Jul 03 - 09:42 AM

There are a couple of different threads here masquerading as one.

This is a contribution to the "folk music versus classical training" part of the thread, not the "competition" part of the thread.

"Folk music" is being used in at least two different senses here. That's OK by me.

There's "folk music" in greg stephens' sense:
"I do strongly believe it is very very very difficult for a classically trained musician to play folk music"

There's "folk music" in Don Firth's sense:
"I take a dim view of people who try to discourage others from taking lessons or say that formal training will spoil you for folk music."

What is going on? Is this a tomato/tomahto thing or is there more to it than that?

The "what is folk music?" threads are notorious on mudcat.
So, I am not interested in choosing between greg and Don. I am not interested in praising one for the correct use of the term and damning the other for misusing the term.

Also, I am not interested in clarifying Don's use of the term. He can do way better than me.

I am interested in clarifying greg's use of the term because he and I are more or less in the same camp.

So.......

Consider if you will, "Devil ate the groundhog", a tune played by central WV fiddlers and Eastern KY fiddlers.

Even if a central WV fiddler and an Eastern KY fiddler play exactly the same notes, the performances will sound very different. So who's doing it right?

Neither, and both.

It is these delicious differences that lead me to disagree completely with Richard Dyer-Bennet when he says "The value lies inherent in the song, not in the regional mannerisms or colloquialisms."

The problem with Rick D-B's claim is the word "The" in the phrase "The value". I claim that "value" is much more complicated than he thinks.

I agree that there is "a" value which is "inherent in the song". "Devil ate the groundhog" is a great tune in and of itself and independent of "regional mannerisms or colloquialisms." But that is just one aspect or level of the song's value. In some situations it might not even be the more important one.

"Devil ate the groundhog" as performed by Paul David Smith (Eastern KY fiddler) has whole new layers or aspects of value. It's the precisely the "regional mannerism or colloquialisms" that Paul David provides and Rick D-B dismisses that provide these additional layers or aspects of value.

So when I politely and humbly suggest (HAH!) that classical training might just possibly cause issues in the performance of folk music, this is the kind/type/sort/species/variety of folk music I am talking about.

Surely, no matter what definition one uses, Paul David Smith is clearly a folk musician and "Devil ate the groundhog" is clearly folk music. But just as clearly Paul David is not a folk musician in quite the same way that Don is a folk musician. And just as clearly "Devil ate the groundhog" as performed by Paul David is not folk music in quite the same way that "Devil ate the groundhog" as performed by Don is folk music.

Remember, I am not denying the Don is a folk musician playing folk music, and doing a wonderful job of it.

So my point is:
IF you want to be a folk musician along the lines of Paul David rather than along the lines of Don,
More specifically,
IF you want to play the fiddle tunes of Eastern KY,
AND you only have one lifetime to do it,
AND you are not a musical ubermensch,
THEN you need to think seriously about some questions:
1) Why not cut to the chase and focus on Eastern KY fiddlers and fiddling?
2) Since you are interested in precisely the "regional mannerisms or colloquialisms" that Rick D-B and the classical music establishment are not interested in, why would you use any of the limited time, energy, and talent you have for classical training?
3) Since classical training MIGHT make it more difficult later to embody those "regional mannerisms or colloquialisms" in your playing, why bother?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST,Dustin
Date: 09 Jul 03 - 12:48 PM

Hmm, just to cause trouble, why not take a specific example of classical training maybe, or maybe not, damaging an interpretation? Surely some of you have heard the "Sea Shanties" album by the Robert Shaw Chorale. Did their training damage their interpretation, or not? If it did, was it necessarily so?

Dustin


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Deckman
Date: 09 Jul 03 - 01:19 PM

Dustin ... I actually knew a very good folksinger, first name Dave, who performed with the Robert Shaw group and was on the recording of that album. We often talked about the chorale and what it was like. He has gone on to a magnificant career as a folksinger, mainly in chantey singing. He always said that his time with that group was a wonderful experience and taught him a great deal. He also mentioned that it really helped to develope his voice as a musical instrument. I hope this adds to the discussion. CHEERS, Bob


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Don Firth
Date: 09 Jul 03 - 05:14 PM

GUEST, Russ, it may come as a surprise, but I tend to agree with much of what you say.

I think the key lies in the overall intent of what the individual musician is trying to do. I was not born and raised in a folk tradition like someone such as Jean Ritchie was. I am urban born, raised in sizable cities, and subject to the wide variety of cultural influences this entails. Most of the singing I did before I took up the guitar and started to learn folk songs in my very early twenties was around campfires at Scout camp with a bunch of other kids, and things like that. Influenced by "standard American English" as spoke by radio announcers, I talk like a city kid. Apart from speaking English with an American accent, it would probably take a Professor Henry Higgins to pin me down to any particular region of the U. S., and even that's pretty doubtful. In essence, if I were to assume some kind of regional accent, it would be counterfeit—phony.

Like just about every city kid, I grew up hearing pop songs, Broadway show tunes, classical music, movie music, commercial jingles, and the usual stuff, along with a few folk songs—as sung by Burl Ives, Susan Reed, Richard Dyer-Bennet, and The Weavers. My first interest in actually singing folk songs myself came while I was going with a girl who liked folk songs and had just inherited a neat old parlor guitar from her grandmother. She set about teaching herself how to play it. It looked like fun, so I bought myself a cheap guitar ($9.95, but other than sounding like an apple crate, it could be tuned accurately and the action was soft) and started to learn with her. She showed me how to play G, C, and D7, and since she could read music, she taught me the first few songs I learned. Then we both ran into Walt Robertson, Sandy Paton (now of Folk-Legacy Records), and several others. I heard Walt Robertson sing a concert, and my interest got really serious.

So, to me, folk music is an acquired interest, not something I grew up with. And on top of this, none of the singers I was acquainted with early on, either personally or on records, was what you might call a "specialist." Burl Ives sang mostly American songs, but did English, Irish, and Scottish as well. Susan Reed sang lots of Irish songs, but also songs from pretty much all over. Richard Dyer-Bennet sang songs and ballads from all over the world, including songs he translated from French, German, and Swedish, along with art songs, some poems he set to music, and songs of his own composition. The Weavers also sang songs from all over the world including Africa, India, Japan, and Alabama. This was the wide and deep pool I dipped into to learn the songs that I sing. Later on, I found Folkways recordings and various field recordings and learned songs from them as well.

I am not a specialist. I don't sing songs of any one region. I am intrigued and interested by songs from all over, so I learn them and sing them. I'm pretty good with accents (especially with dialect jokes), and with some Scottish songs I affect a Scots burr (with a name like Firth, I think I can claim a little kinship there), but in general, any dialect or regionalism I assume is going to be artificial, and unless the song really seems to demand it, I don't do it (I do a version of The Frozen Logger with a broad Swedish accent that seems to crack people up, but that's strictly for humor). In general, I believe that the principle that Dyer-Bennet set down, quoted above, about "no song is ever harmed by being articulated clearly, on pitch, with sufficient control of phrase and dynamics. . . ." etc., is a good one.   

Ralph Stanley, for example, sings songs pretty much indigenous to the area in which he grew up. I don't believe he thinks much about how to sing them, he just sings in his natural voice and with his natural accent, which is regional. The way he sings Pretty Polly is a mind-blower! But if I were to try to sing that with the same tone and accent that he uses, it would be totally phony coming out of my mouth. So I don't. I sing it my own way. Who does it better? I think he does. But then, I sing a lot of stuff that he doesn't and that he probably wouldn't even want to try.

If I did want to specialized in the songs of one particular region, I would get pretty academic, research it down to a gnat's eyelash, and do my damnedest to try to sound as authentic as possible. This, I think, is pretty much what Mike Seeger has done, and as far as I can tell, he sounds pretty genuine. But I am a "generalist." I sing a wide variety of songs, not just the songs of one region. I think that calls for a different approach.

I am willing to bet that the vast majority of people who now play an instrument and sing folk songs came to it by essentially the same route that I did. To quote Burl Ives, "I'm not a folk singer. I am a singer who just happens to like to sing folk songs." And I try to sing them as genuinely as I can. Not the way Ralph Stanley or anybody else does.

But in general, I am really put off by city-born kids who sing a wide variety of songs, but knock themselves out trying to sound like they're eighty-years-old and toothless.

Don Firth


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: greg stephens
Date: 09 Jul 03 - 06:12 PM

There is a difference between what I'm saying and what Don Firth is saying, and as Guest Russ says, the difference lies in how we are using the term folk. Of course classical training wont hurt you if you want to be a Burl Ives or a Richard Dyer Bennet or a Paul Robeson or a Marsalis or whatever( I dont mean imitating them, I mean performing in that sort of area). ```But after an intensive ten years operatic training, I doubt if even someone as strong-minded as Leadbelly could have gone back and sung folksongs the way he used to, not without conscious effort and hard work: to un-learn the mannerisms he had picked up. Now,to some people that kind have education might have improved his performance.....but as "folk music" I would say it wold have more than likely been changed for the worse. As Russ says, of course it "depends what you mean by folk".
    And I will repeat, I dont say classical training makes it impossible to play traditional music. I say it makes it very very difficult. Some people overcome that difficulty very successfully, and end up the stronger for having a foot in both camps.
    Personally (just so you know where I'm coming from Don!) I have no classical training formally,instrumentally or theoretically, but have an adequate working knowledge(self taught from books,experience and keeping my ears open) of theory from writing brass and choral arrangements.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 09 Jul 03 - 06:27 PM

Don,

Thanks for the detailed reply.

The fact that you agree with much of what I say isn't nearly as surprising as the fact that you read my discourse in the first place. I am used to being ignored.

I also really meant it when I said that I am perfectly happy to call you a folk singer, and a good one.

And even though Ralph Stanley is one of the deities in my personal music pantheon, I am not willing to grant that Ralph Stanley sings Pretty Polly "better" than you. It's an truly an apples an oranges comparison. Like comparing Lagavulin and Glenlivet.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Frankham
Date: 09 Jul 03 - 06:50 PM

Don, I agree with you about people trying to sound and be something they aren't. I am a fan of Mike Seeger but I know that he will never be as authentic as a Doc Watson since it came to him second hand. He still is a stirring and exciting performer who communicates the "essence" of folk music whether or not he is part of the society that he brings to an audience through his music. So when I listen to someone like Mike, I don't care if he's the "real deal" or not. The same is true for Burl or Pete or anyone who brings to the music an understanding and sensitivity.

So, ya' gotta' be yourself and don't try to be someone you aint unless you're a very good actor. Even then, there is a difference between a stage-worthy characterization and the person who learned the style from his/her community at his parent's knees. Jean Ritchie is the "real deal" but I like hearing her sing with others who maybe aren't like Oscar Brand or as she demonstrates so beautifully on her CD's with trained singers that it fits artistically.

AS to classical training, if it helps someone become a better interpreter of folk song why not?

It has to be said that there are some not so hot authentic folksingers and folksongs out there. Just because it's folk doesn't mean that it's automatically great entertainment or great music.

I would rather hear Richard Dyer-Bennett than a real out of tune bad authentic folksinger singing doggerel that no one understands any more.

I realize that this is subjective too but I think that if you listen to enough folk music you can discern what's interesting and musical and reflects the integrity of the song and music.

A way to not do this is to play Banjo Patterson's Waltzing Matilda as a waltz.

Frank Hamilton



Frank Hamilton


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Don Firth
Date: 09 Jul 03 - 07:03 PM

Slight misconception here, Greg. Taking voice lessons does not mean training to sing opera. No voice teacher who isn't an outright charlatan (and granted, there are a few of those) would try to turn somebody into an opera singer unless they have the kind of vocal instrument it takes, and then, only if that's what they want to do. Operatic voices are not that common, much to the general upset of many young singers who would like to be able to sing opera.

As far as anyone trying to turn Leadbelly into an opera singer is concerned, it would not have happened. He was a tenor, but not that kind of tenor. No good voice teacher would have ever tried to steer him in that direction. And ten years? Not likely. I took lessons off and on over a period of about three, maybe four years at the outside, and this gave me more that enough to learn to "place" my voice and breath properly, allowing me to sing without strain and thereby avoid damaging my vocal apparatus. If I ever started having problems, I would go back to a voice teacher and have them help me get it straightened out. But nobody has ever mistaken me for Ezio Pinza, even though we have the same category of voice. So, for that matter, does Gordon Bok.

And as to saying, "I don't say classical training makes it impossible to play traditional music. I say it makes it very, very difficult." I don't see where the difficulty comes in. The classical teacher doesn't get into your head and rewire your brain. You are always free to make your own judgments and accept or reject what the teacher is telling you to do. I did a fair amount of that as I went along. If lessons of any kind seem to induce a pupil into being able to do something only one way, that's not the fault of the lessons, that's the fault of the pupil.

Granted, a long time classical musician is probably going to have trouble putting folk music across. I can't conceive of Luciano Pavarotti ever being able to do folk songs very convincingly. But I'm not suggesting that someone who wants to do folk music take as much training as someone who wants to do classical music and devote themselves exclusively to the study of classical music for years before returning to folk music. I'm suggesting that some study can be of great value in that it teaches you how to use the most efficient techniques for doing something. Then you can use them or reject them according to your own judgment.

Don Firth


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: hesperis
Date: 09 Jul 03 - 07:24 PM

Classical training, when used in conjunction with folk process taining, merely gives you a vocabulary for communicating better about and with the music.

It's up to you what you do with that.

Note to jjmorri's daughter - look up French Horn Jazz Soloist on the internet, and come to the next meeting with your conductor about it armed with real info. I wish I'd had the internet when I was trying to learn jazz... I had to learn it on sax, trombone and flute, then transfer what I learned to my REAL instrument, on which I was never able to perform jazz solos in the concerts. (This in spite of being a "star student" and being given an amazingly free rein in the band room compared to what was usually permitted by the "dictators".)

Why should you have to learn jazz on an instrument that isn't your primary instrument? It doesn't make any sense.

There are French Horn Jazz players out there, and some are quite good. Plus, the Boss Brass has always had a French Horn section, so it is quite possible to do good "real" jazz with horns in the ensemble.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Deckman
Date: 09 Jul 03 - 07:46 PM

This thread (thanks again Don) just reminded me of a very interesting "melding" of the two extremes of training, if you will. A hundred years ago, when I was in my freshman year of College as a music major, I was totally submerged in music classes: theory, piano, voice, composing, etc. My "voice" teacher was also the head of the music dept. His wife was also the piano and theory proffessor. At my daily private voice lessons, I studied it all: breathing, posture, diction, languages, elocution, voice placement, German art songs, on and on. And, as my voice teacher was a "Basso Profondo" (sp?) he naturally decided that I should be also. To this day I can still do a full three octave slide from my upper regester to my lowest possible note with a "break." But, and here's the point of my story, I was chosen to sing the lead in a 25 voice Cantata for the Spring concert. And what was the piece? My voice teacher chose "The White Pilgrim," by James Pullen Johnson. It's a folk cantata based on several white spirituals, and tales, from the Southern Mountains. Part of the reason I was chosen was because I could play guitar and we wove the instrument into the performance. Quite wonderful, as I recall. ("Oh, Brother, Will You Meet Me, On Cannans Happy Shore"). So, just because one takes "formal studies" and "classical studies" in music does NOT mean that you can't maintain the feel and warmth of 'folk music.' CHEERS, Bob


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Thomas the Rhymer
Date: 09 Jul 03 - 09:51 PM

Very thought provoking...

Special thanks to you, Don, for the most comprehensive and enjoyable posts I have ever seen... I am taking it all in, but it's a lot to digest all at once...

Through the years, I have had a strong interest in music. I have played my way into a basic proficiency at what ever musical types interest me. I say I'm self taught, and strictly, I am... but with all the music I've listened to throughout my life, I learn from recordings what I like... and am taught by example. I can listen over and over to a piece of music, gleaning what i like, noticing what I can, and picking up what comes 'naturally' to me. There is some good in this, and I find it easier to learn what I enjoy.

At the same time, I have been keeping alive a basic ability to improvise... both within a song structure, and 'free form', and this brings my original material to the fore... as well as my freedom of expression. I am a great believer in Improvisation as a 'freshener' and as a 'personal healing agent'... but the originality of the stumbled onto delight is constantly inspiring and empowering. Writing songs from scratch is a form of folk music in it's purest sense, and though the concept of 'indiginous' is currently sort of defunct due to the prevailent multi cultuaral media in our lives, I do believe it is possible to write a honest song wherever you live.

As far as the pursuit of a specific genera goes, I'd say that the more you saturate yourself in it, the better you get. If a classically proficient player can play a jig on a site read, imagine how well he/she could play it after immersing themselves in a lengthy and persistant study of the genera in question! Talent must apply itself to the genera in question, take it seriously, and study it. ...and, you can't play it like you mean it without practice...

As for me, I have been enoying my 'self taught' method for 25 years. The opperational force within me says "your abiding love for people will bring out your best music"... but then, I do practice for some hours every day...

Be Good! ttr


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 10 Jul 03 - 11:16 AM

"Folk Music"

It's said this before but this seems to be an appropriate time to say it again

Because the term "Folk Music" is not univocal, I generally avoid using it.

However, I sometimes use the term because it is not univocal in just the right way.

For example, it sometimes comes up in the course of idle conversation with people who do not know me very well that I am an amateur musician. The invariable question is "What kind of music do you do?" I have two answers depending upon my mood.

If I am not in the mood to begin an extended discussion, I answer "folk music". The invariable response is "Oh, you mean the kind of music that [insert name of any artist or group who has ever been characterized as 'folk'] does?" To which I respond, "Yes", no matter what artist or group has been named. At which point the questioner moves to another topic. You see, in the States the nice thing about 'folk music' is that everybody thinks they have at least some notion what I am talking about. And almost everybody thinks they know enough about 'folk music' to know that they are not very interested in that particular genre. Thus 'folk music' serves as a nice, polite 'conversation stopper'. I get the impression from the English contributors to mudcat that the situation might be similar there.

If, on the other hand, I am in a garrulous mood I respond, "old time music". In the States almost nobody has a clue what "old time music" is unless they are members of the relatively small community that performs it. So the invariable response is "What's that?" At which point I kick into my didactic mode and begin a lengthy explanation.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Don Firth
Date: 10 Jul 03 - 02:09 PM

". . . Waltzing Matilda as a waltz." Yeah, I hear you, Frank. My admiration for Richard Dyer-Bennet is not totally without bounds. His musicianship was next to impeccable, but there are certain songs that he recorded that, in my opinion at least, his judgment could be considered a bit questionable.

I think he was at his best on European songs and doing ballads as a lute-singer or court minstrel might have done them (conjures up a vivid image). He was in top form with songs like The Joys of Love (Plaisir d'amour), Oft in the Stilly Night, and So We'll Go No More a-Roving (all on Dyer-Bennet Records #1). But on some of what Walt Robertson called "the more hairy-chested songs," he leaves a bit to be desired. There are certain songs that he recorded that, if I had his voice, I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. His renditions of John Henry and Drill, Ye Tarriers are technically very good, but to my ear, they come out a little pale. Questionable choice of repertoire. And occasionally he tries to "get cute" with a song, such as lapsing into 3/4 on the chorus of Waltzing Matilda. No, Dick. No, no, no!!

Formal training is one thing. Taste is another.

Russ, I know what you mean. "Folk music" has become a sort of non-term. Not much real communication there. "Folk music" is what you find in the folk music bin at the record store. Whenever asked what kind of music I do, if I say "folk music," people tended to say, "Oh! You mean, like Peter, Paul, and Mary?" or something like that, and then I'm in for a long, drawn-out discussion, trying to explain that Peter, Paul, and Mary were not the be-all and end-all of folk music. Nor do I wish to be pigeon-holed as an old Sixties hippie. So I usually give a sort of weasel answer: "Ballads, sea songs, folk songs, a few lute solos on the guitar, that sort of thing." Since Seattle is currently strong on early music (The Seattle Early Music Guild, the Medieval Women's Chorus, and a couple of local early music groups), I try to draw a vague association between early music and what I do. I figure that since Custer La Rue of the Baltimore Consort sings a lot of folk songs and ballads, and since there actually is a strong connection anyway, I'm not really misleading them (too much. . . .). If the conversation continues, people usually ask things like "What, exactly, is a ballad?" and then I can explain things without having to wade through a lot of long-standing misconceptions about what folk music is.

And Thomas, yes, you're spot on about immersing yourself in the kind of music you want to do. And when you do that, self-teaching can work well, assuming you go about it in some logical manner, which it sounds like you have. I felt like I was coming from way behind when I first started. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to learn, but I didn't know where to find the information I needed, so I saw formal training as a way of jump-starting the process. Since I had a fairly clear idea of what I wanted to do, I was able to pick and choose what to concentrate on and what I didn't need to study all that deeply. When the third year at the U. of W. School of Music came along, I knew that what was being offered would take me off in directions I didn't think would be especially valuable to me (composition, orchestration, etc.), so I dropped out and started taking private theory lessons from Mildred Hunt Harris, a local composer and music teacher. She had me bring my guitar to the lessons and we worked with the songs themselves. She knew more about music in general than I did, but I knew more about folk music that she did, so as we worked through possible arrangements, she always left it to me to decide what was appropriate and what wasn't. Once she got the hang of what I was after, she was a great one for figuring out neat harmonic and contrapuntal lines and making them look like simple bass runs. Good teacher!

Wow! This is a heck of a discussion! Thanks for starting it!

Don Firth


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Kim C
Date: 10 Jul 03 - 04:12 PM

Mister and I have a friend who is a classically-trained violinist. Got a Masters Degree and all that. He's an incredible fiddler, and an all-around nice guy. We were on a gig with him for the first time a couple of years ago, and I was Scared To Death! I knew he was way more experienced than me, and I was just petrified.

Well, that was stupid. He was very complimentary and encouraging. We played with him again this year, and had a blast.

Granted, his training probably makes his playing sound more polished - but it doesn't overshadow his spirit or his love of playing.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: keberoxu
Date: 04 Jun 16 - 05:23 PM

This thread starts with a question in the OP regarding performers whose approach to traditional music is rooted in formal music training, especially lessons in classical music.   Then the thread branches, some of the digressions are more interesting than others.

Recently on a thread about singing, a Mudcat member unburdened themselves (gender-neutral) about their high expectations for the interpretation of the Elizabethan lute song, and an experience decades ago that was a deeply emotional disappointment. That long-ago attendance at a performance of musicians with classical-music background was well described and reminded me of how common that sort of thing was then. You can still find that turning up in places today. There is more variety now, though.

I mean to say, there is actually greater variety in performance practices amongst classically-trained musicians. One reason is that since the end of the Second World War, generations of scholars have probed long and deep into researching performance practices in centuries gone by. There are recordings of European music from the Baroque period, for example, that are setting the trend today in listening and studying, and they have a sound that would have met with a lot of objection exactly one hundred years ago when Baroque music was being played according to Romantic or post-Classical performance practices. An obvious example is string orchestras playing Baroque music, or even earlier music, with as little vibrato as possible. If you're as old as I am, you can recall when nobody classical dared make a sound quite like that.

There have been similar changes, parallel changes, in singing, so you now have classically trained singers who do not sing all repertoire with a full-blown Romantic vibrato, as was so often done early in the 20th century.

That's all I feel like posting just now, but there is a lot of room for friendly positive discussion here.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: keberoxu
Date: 04 Jun 16 - 05:35 PM

And for an example of something different than my previous post:

Mudcat started out specializing in the blues, and I know you all have heard of Hubert Sumlin. I see he has an obit thread here, and a search on his name brings up many other threads.

How many of you are aware of Sumlin finding a teacher and studying music formally? He did, and was a dedicated student. Did this detract from his blues guitar playing? Did it contribute positively to his blues guitar playing? This is beyond my acquaintance, I depend on the rest of you to remark on the subject.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Will Fly
Date: 04 Jun 16 - 06:31 PM

I don't care one way or another whether Hubert Sumlin had formal musical education or not - or know whether that education contributed to his blues playing or not. All I know is that the riff he plays on Howling Wolf's "Five Hundred Pounds Of Joy" sends shivers down my spine even now. And that the riff on "Smokestack Lightning", along with Wolf's voice, is a sacred sound I've adored since I first heard the record at the age of twelve - sixty years ago.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Leadfingers
Date: 04 Jun 16 - 10:24 PM

Formal Classical training is very useful from the point of view of learning new tunes ! Actually PLAYING the tunes in an interesting way is a totally different story !

I see a reference to Louis Armstrong above a ways - He WAS taught to read music in the Boys Brigade , and was quoted as saying he DID read , but not enough to hurt his playing !


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: keberoxu
Date: 05 Jun 16 - 01:16 PM

Reporter: There's one element of your background that's almost unique among bluesmen: you studied guitar at the Chicago Conservatory of Music. What was the extent of your formal training?

Sumlin: I studied for six months with this old guy who was with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It was the first time I ever saw a dude who played both opera and blues on his guitar. It had a huge impact on me, because I didn't know the piano keyboard and I didn't know how to read -- I didn't know an F from an A, an A from a B or a B from a C. That guy showed me so much in just six months.

....You have to learn how to use your instrument to its fullest. You got five different Es, you got five different As, and you got to use them all. If you're all over the neck, you're better. That's why I never used a clamp [capo] like Muddy, or Albert Collins, or Jimmy Rogers: Why limit yourself? You'll notice that kids coming up today play great, and they don't use a clamp because they've got better knowledge of the instrument.

interview dated 1994


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: gillymor
Date: 06 Jun 16 - 10:08 AM

Joe Venuti's classical training didn't seem to damage him too much. :) Matter of fact probably had a lot to do with his gorgeous tone and precise intonation. In the Irish Trad realm American fiddler Liz Knowles also seems to have benefitted from C.T.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: Stringsinger
Date: 06 Jun 16 - 12:08 PM

You can live more than one life time and not know everything about music. This shouldn't stop anyone from continuing to learn, classic, jazz, folk, trad,, pop, it's all music and some of it more interesting than other of it but worth every bit of study to get better at no matter what you like or play. Critics for the most part usually get in the way of creative musical activity. There are a few who are able to point out the developed aspects of music that is worthy of listening.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: keberoxu
Date: 06 Jun 16 - 01:50 PM

Welcome back, Stringsinger....I see that you had a different username when you posted on this thread over ten years ago.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Classical Training
From: keberoxu
Date: 06 Jun 16 - 03:14 PM

And then there is the late Sean Maguire, whose combination of classical technique with traditional Irish repertoire make him the object of Mudcat Cafe controversy, as existing threads demonstrate. Can't be all bad, though, if it brings attention to the tradition?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate
  Share Thread:
More...

Reply to Thread
Subject:  Help
From:
Preview   Automatic Linebreaks   Make a link ("blue clicky")


Mudcat time: 19 September 8:52 AM EDT

[ Home ]

All original material is copyright © 1998 by the Mudcat Café Music Foundation, Inc. All photos, music, images, etc. are copyright © by their rightful owners. Every effort is taken to attribute appropriate copyright to images, content, music, etc. We are not a copyright resource.