The Craft of Musical Communication
The Craft of Musical Communication by Keith Hill and Marianne Ploger, ©2005
We present this essay in two parts because each part describes a distinct aspect of the Craft of Musical Communication, each of which relies wholly on the other to "work." One aspect is not more important than the other. Each depends on the other to project the full force of which they are both capable - for producing inspiring performances of music.
The techniques and concepts presented here have been tested with musicians and listeners, as well as with what can only be called “hostile listeners” - the ones who profess a strong antagonism to classical music. When the techniques were used while playing the music during our presentations, the result for musicians was mixed: about 95% of the musicians loved the way the music felt, and 5% of the musicians hated what they thought violated their notion of how music ought to go and were openly antagonistic to the techniques. For non-musically trained listeners, 100% felt inspired by the result, and for the hostile listeners, 100% were pleasantly surprised by what they heard. During the performances, it seems, they discovered that the problem they had with classical music was the way it was played, not the music itself, nor their relative ignorance of that kind of music.
What we have found is that hostile listeners are incredibly smart and perceptive in that they have no patience for listening to music played in a manner that doesn't communicate. Furthermore, when these disinterested, hostile listeners were asked to tell the performers what they needed to do to the music to make that music work for them, and when the performers responded in a loving and compliant manner to accede to their suggestions, these listeners responded with cheers for the players and the music, some saying that the performances brought them to tears...which is the real point behind playing great music...isn't it? Invariably, the listeners were in total agreement about what the players needed to do to make the music "come alive" for them and, equally invariably, every suggestion they made was almost word for word what we have presented below in the first part: the art of delivery.
These experiences/experiments can be and ought to be reproduced by anyone who is truly serious about learning the craft of musical communication, if only to have the force of proof to give him or her the confidence to absolutely know that these techniques and concepts work just as we say they do. It is not enough to take them on faith. They must be tested with listeners of all kinds. However, care must be taken in dealing with trained musicians, as they tend to be too prejudiced due to indoctrination in the current style of playing classical music, a way of playing in which these techniques are almost nowhere to be found.
Why the hostility and antagonism between classical musicians and hostile listeners? We suspect that the hostility on both sides is due to a misunderstanding of each about the other. Musicians tend to dismiss normal, ordinary people as being crass and unsophisticated in their musical tastes and therefore, not worth bothering with as listeners. And these listeners tend to write off classical musicians as being out of touch, indifferent, snobbish, and effete and therefore not worth listening to.
This current environment surrounding classical music is tragic because the music was designed to express, in many cases, deep and intense love, and it used to be performed lovingly and engagingly for the enjoyment of everyone.
Believe it or not, nowadays, classical music is associated with fear and evil in our cultural cliches. For example, in movies, the villains too often are seen listening to classical music as they order the murder of others. Classical musicians are depicted as narcissistic, egotistical, self centered, solipsistic curs, totally lacking compassion, common sense, or both, and violence with huge explosions that are too often accompanied by some of the greatest classical music ever written.
This Youtube video below made in Britain explicitly demonstrates the veracity of our claims regarding this connection.
Perhaps, if doctors were depicted in the movies doing evil acts to acid rock music, it would not be long before people would associate in their imaginations having a doctor doing something evil to them every time they hear acid rock music. People would soon come to fear doctors and detest acid rock music. It is not the music or the villains depicted but the coupling of them with evil that has taken its toll on alienating people from classical music.
Though in all fairness it should be said that this association has been facilitated by the insistence of the majority of classical musicians over the last 75 years. Meaning, those responsible for enforcing notions and standards on other musicians that have resulted in classical music being played in a wooden, unmusical, highly mannered style. Specifically, a style which includes strict meter to replace real rhythm, perfect evenness of line to replace the flow of musical thought, and tightness of ensemble, all which communicate the affects of coldness, indifference to suffering, machine-like behavior, scolding, anger, etc. This is what has made the cultural caricature of the vicious and evil classical musicians merely a foregone conclusion. What is even more appalling is how these musicians dare to blame the music loving public for not supporting their anti-aesthetic performances, when it is the musicians themselves who have purposefully and intentionally sought to sterilize music making of every behavior that the human brain requires for music to "make sense". Until classical musicians recognize and admit to how unmusical hence really boring most of their music making sounds, they won't accept their responsibility for their role in turning classical music into a dusty, dry, irrelevant museum relic...suitable only for being ignored.
This means that each of us, who loves classical music, has a role to play to change this nasty environment into one that is full of the joy of music...and not just for musicians. That is why we have presented this essay.
A curious side-effect, which occurs when well trained musicians use these techniques and concepts in their performance practice, is that these ideas have the power to transform otherwise ordinary performances into ones which show every sign of true musical mastery. Even curiouser is that when these techniques are missing from a performance of music, even one which is virtuosically perfect and otherwise very musical by the highest conventional standards, the music feels supremely, even breathtakingly competent but never feels masterful. These effects are not subtle, because almost everyone can easily notice the effect of musical mastery. Therefore, any musician who desires to partake of the wonderful side-effect need only use and master what follows.