Thursday, June 9, 2011

On goals

As one project (the Mozart concerto) draws to a close, I thought it was worth a couple of minutes of reflection, to try and clarify, for myself, why I'm doing this, and what my goals are.

For the Mozart, my goal was simple and clear. I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. I never expected to get the chance to play in front of an orchestra, and when that chance arrived, I feared that it might never come again if I let it slip by. Was I ready, when I was asked? Was it an appropriate piece for me to accept performing at that point? No on both, absolutely not. It turns out that it's a pretty difficult piece, for me anyway, even if I did first see it decades ago in junior high. I think if I'd appreciated how hard it was, and how hard I'd have to work to get even to where I am now, I'm not certain I would have been able to do it. Still, the work is done, and I prepared as best I could, given everything. Two shows have happened and gone fine. I've now played in front of an orchestra. (And I'll do it again, once more before I'm done.) But beyond the performance itself, to take advantage of the opportunity doesn't just mean to stand on stage embarrassing myself for a few minutes. Rather, I think it includes taking advantage of the incentive and the opportunity to spend the time, effort and resources doing the preparation for the performance. An opportunity to work, if you will. And I think I did that too. It's been about a year of work, and I think I've been successful in improving over where I was at. Maybe this is a low, "personal best" sort of standard -- I'm not any audience member would have felt an impact of the music other than, you know, being happy for us that we seemed to be having fun up there. Still, giving it your best is, by definition, the best you can do, and I think I can feel satisfied.

So what next? Why am I doing this, and what am I trying to accomplish? (It's much easier to accomplish things if you're clear on what it is that you're trying to accomplish.) Well, I'm an amateur. I'll never be a professional, or even a serious student. I'm here to have fun. So what does that entail? Well, here are a few thoughts. Hopefully I can make some progress on them in, say, the next year.

I'd like to learn how to make reeds that are more fun to play on. The reeds I have been making do make sound, and sometimes, for a good note on a good day, I've even been able to force them to produce a nice sound, with reasonable tone and intonation. It's always been a struggle, though, difficult, and physically tiring. I think some of that is reed, and can be solved. This isn't just about getting the pitch up, but also improving responsiveness, so I can play rhythmically, without fretting if the note is going to speak. For an example of the kind of "fun" playing I'd like to be able to try to do, listen to Ray Pizzi's performance of his own Ode to a Toad. He describes it as a "whimsical swamp blues", and fills it with swoops and other jazzy ornaments, but I'd be happy to just be able to do that rhythm and feel.

I'd like to learn enough basics of double-reed acoustics that I can understand the physical basis for how reeds work, and how pitch and sound arises. A lot of this is known, if you read the right papers or books, but it's not known by me. Note that this is not something that a professional or serious student would necessarily have the time or the background for, and it's certainly not required in order to be able to make reeds well. But I like understanding things, because understanding is fun.

Improving my ear, and knowledge of harmony and other parts of music theory. Again, because understanding is fun, even if it's not specifically directed to improving some failing.

Getting generally better at playing, of course, but in the context of developing musically. There's no real point, I now think, in, say, practicing scales fast for their own sake. I think I'm starting to appreciate that skills need to be developed in context in order to be useful.

And I'd like to continue to find new opportunities to play with other people. Because that's really what it's all about, isn't it? Making music with other people. And having fun.

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