This week’s #MUS654 topic is Repertoire, and the music we play whether we call it songs, pieces, repertoire – it is the stuff that serves as the vehicle for our musical communication with listeners, each other, and ourselves. In thinking about repertoire, we’re encouraged to look back and see our own development as musicians. How have you come to know the music you know? What was the first music you knew? Maybe it had nothing or little to do with your instrument. How did you get into the music of your instrument and did you use the same mechanisms to find music there as you might have for other listening or music you engaged with?
When you begin to think about it, it is fascinating, and as a teacher it will have relevance. You are beginning to focus on the learning and become aware of the processes that you have undertaken. Sometimes through happy chance we find ourselves on a great musical path, but often it is through the dedicated guidance, planning, and nurturing of others – parents, teachers, and fellow musicians.
I’ve already presented a few different topics there and I’d like to start with this one:
How do we come to know the music we know?
As a child, I grew up with records – LPs, 33s, 78s. Yes, we even had a Victrola (as well as the fancy hi-fi record player). These were a mix of classic songs from the 1930s – 1950s, a good dose of Jazz quartets and trios, a very few classical records (1812 overture), lots of folk music, and a couple of very cheesy Christmas albums – one man with a deep voice singing to an orchestral accompaniment, with a touch of sleigh bells in the background… That was it. There was no piano in the house. There were no other instruments. Those records were magic.
That is a starting point. I remember walking around with a little radio and we would search the channels to find whatever there was – eager to hear new things. It still happens like that with much of pop music. People eagerly await the next single or album from an artist. When did that die with other styles of music? (responses please – that’s a real question, not just a rhetorical one) As a cellist my knowledge of music, certainly at the beginning, was very limited and nearly completely reliant on whatever the teacher gave me to learn. Having a background in the LPs in the sitting room and the pop songs on the radio didn’t help me to know about the cello, and in the beginning, my years of first position etudes didn’t come close to giving me a clue about the repertoire for the instrument. The first time I heard a cello concerto was when I was learning one. That is the wrong way around.
Now people aren’t reliant on the records in their house or the two channels that might have good reception on the radio. We have access to so many recordings it is really mindblowing. So the question – do we (and do our students) seek to expand what we know? Do you look for new music to play? That could be new old music – it doesn’t have to be modern. I think we do, but the impetus is different. Think about reading books. We are taught to search from a young age. Children are taken to libraries and talked through what there is. (How often do we start students by giving them a tour through great works for their instrument?) We are taught how to find it. We are encouraged to seek and read. And when we get proficient at the basics, we are allowed to have preferences and to suggest our own content.
I don’t like horror books. I prefer comedy or mysteries where I have to think.
If a young learner is asked what would they like to play/sing, would they have the same musical literary knowledge to say – I would like to do X because I enjoy that style or period or composer… It may be a different way of looking at it, and it may take more work on the teacher’s part, but think how empowering it could be for the student.
I wonder what is your experience with learning? Do you learn music and musical repertoire with the same relish you read or the same enthusiasm you find a new tv show to follow? Or the same way you follow popular charts? I wonder why or why not? Perhaps through understanding how and what we do, we can take the best bits from all our learning and bring those together as tools so we can be the best facilitators and teachers to guide ourselves and others.
Quite aside from the #MUS654 class, musician and author Bill Benzon blogged about his Jazz education in a series of posts, and it is fascinating. He did it the right way around and in these posts he expresses a breadth of listening, learning, and understanding that is noteworthy. I recommend you definitely read Bill’s first post:
and if that sparks your interest, Bill is very articulate (in music and words) as he goes on in successive posts. He takes us through influential repertoire and how he came to it. I wonder if we could each do a similar thing? What shaped you? …if you are drawing some blanks, maybe it’s time to go to the virtual musical library and check out some tunes.
I have linked to Bill’s further posts on his education below, but am saving the last one for when we talk about observing lessons. You’ll have plenty to read and listen to with these first ones… enjoy! (image CC BY-NC by Allert Aalders)
Featured image CC BY-NC-SA by Via Tsuji