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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

March Madness #10: One Quote from Shakespeare

From Hamlet:

“We shall, by indirections, find the directions out.” 

It is a great quote. Polonius', actually.

A perfect thought, piece of advice, and strategy for artistic creation. Certainly it is my method of finding the "key" or the "hook" or the "path" for any opera I might be trying to direct. It is absolutely quite useful in coachings and rehearsals.

It's about process; process is vital. It is the essential thing.


One can look at this from a Laban perspective -- moving indirectly is extremely powerful and contains elements of improvisation and experimentation sometimes forgotten onstage.

Indirect emotions can be exceedingly playful, extremely spontaneous, or sometimes frightening and destructive.

Indirect conducting is an actual useful technique that I've used often, particularly in contemporary opera.

So, indirectness is a way into the forest. A path that can't necessarily be followed. It's the way one enters into many conversations, it's the way one enters into understanding difficult subjects. It's how one encounters paintings or other pieces of art, particularly sculpture.

So it is probably true that its opposite - directness - can lead one into the forest as well. Paths are usually safe and well-worn. Directness makes a statement, is usually crystal clear, and hopefully a concise way to understand a solution.

Thinking that a musical score is a direct, objective, concrete set of "directions", however, isn't a good thing, at least in my playbook.

I think back to my masters degree and my amazing piano teacher, Joanne Baker. She didn't teach her students the traditional way - by allowing the music to be looked at. Whatever we'd work on with her HAD to be memorized. Whether it was a bar, a page, a section, a movement, or an entire sonata, you had to walk into your lesson with it memorized. This meant digesting large quantities of notes and musical markings as quickly as possible, committing them to memory while reading the music and practicing the passages, and then spending the rest of the time listening and thinking and experimenting with your sounds. She believed that if you were looking into a score for the answers, all you'd find were "black notes on white pages" that had no meaning. They were just a blueprint for the actual building that existed - a building that each pianist had to create for themselves.

It taught me that scores were a leaping off point. Yes, they needed to be referred to and studied, but certainly not revered or held up as some sort of biblical, definitive, musical word of God.

Treating an operatic score (and especially, an operatic piano/vocal reduction) as critical, particularly when it is actually described or labeled "critical", sets up an illusion. Even the autographs do not encapsulate the real point of the composer's labor. The score is just a set recipe of sorts to the musicians and the singers (and the producers, conductors, directors, etc.), something that isn't in any way, shape, or form representative of actual art. If it was, we'd just hand the audience a score when they entered the theatre and we'd say "Here's the opera!"

No one would think that would be a good idea.

Yet, too many musicians, too many teachers and coaches, too many students, think that if one just does what's on the page, one has fulfilled their duty. Or even worse, they think that perhaps they've done something correct or good or noble.

The wondrous thing about opera is that it is never the same. It's like that old adage "You can never step into the same river twice"; the operatic river moves and flows constantly. Tastes change, ornamental treatises are written, then forgotten, then discovered, trends shift. These things we know. But the scores basically stay the same, on their shelves all around the world. That's why they aren't real, or at least not the real deal.

It's the scores that live in the minds of the performers that are the real scores. They can't be touched or copied or pdf'd; they are as indirect as the billions of mental connections that create our sense of self. Each time one hears a Verdi aria in their head, hums a tune by Mozart, listens to a rehearsal of Bellini, or spends time reciting text, one is making a thousand indirect connections that ultimately leads them to a destination of sorts.

Indirectly finding the Direct.

And that's just one line from one Shakespeare play...

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