By Bogdan Jeler ( Piano/Flute Tutor - Bishopbriggs School of Music)
In a world increasingly focused on end products, image, and fast-forwarding through most parts of one’s life, creative artists are in a special line of work. However, they may find it more and more difficult to keep up with the high demand of output although their output is more significant in the long-term.
The artistic field is one in which reaching the final product takes way longer than other fields and it is often the result of several collaborations. The beauty of it? People spend their lives with, in, or around the final product. Whether we are talking about music, architecture, design, visual arts or any other artistic field, the completion of a project can take anything between a week and a few months to complete, if not more. Of course, most professional orchestras often do not rehearse for more than a week for a concert, there simply isn’t enough time. But the work that each musician has to put in to be even in said orchestra takes thousands of hours, spent over years of training.
All this being said, the question of whether we are putting the stress on the result too much in comparison to the process becomes even more valid. After all, the process in itself, the journey, is often more satisfying than the end result. Sometimes, the show may not even be as good as we have hoped. And, in the case of music concerts, theatre shows, fashion shows, to name but a few, the final product is not on display for too long. It may be over before we even know it, especially with the high emotional charge around any event of this kind. What’s more, it is never going to be exactly replicated - of course, in most cases, we don’t even want it to be, as art is meant to evolve, and be constantly on the move. Learning to enjoy the process is crucial when learning an art, and especially music. We have this image that it’s all very easy to do, with little, if any, effort- the media and television had a huge contribution to this! But of course, a truly magnificent artist makes even the most difficult pieces seem effortless and for some it may be easier than for others.
Playing the piano for example, is not particularly difficult, but mastering it to the level required of a Master in piano performance is no easy task. The bottom line is really, in the journey from grade 1 to postgraduate level, one thing which matters more than anything else is the process of learning and the way it evolves, as the student does too. There’s a number of things that make the difference between a pianist at grade 5 and a postgraduate student, with the total number of hours spent in front of the instrument an obvious factor on the list. However, other factors may influence this: the way the individuals think about music as a concept and about phrasing, the technical level they reached in that time, the studies they undertook relating to (playing) the piano, and of course, the process each student undertakes. One of my teachers often reminds me that if one of the most brilliant flautists was to take my technical abilities but retain their way of approaching a piece, they would not play it any worse than they are doing anyway. Why? Partly because they would know how to figure out certain technical difficulties and make it all work for them, but they would also know how to approach it from a musical point of view, whether it is singing the melody, listening to different recordings, or knowing how to employ different techniques to get the result they wish. I certainly do not think he’s wrong: necessity is the mother of invention, and sorting out technical issues is not so difficult after a while. Especially if you know what the process for that is.
Here’s a short list of things you have to figure out: What makes something difficult; is it the notes, the register, the articulation? Why you find that difficult; is it that you’ve never encountered this sort of difficulty, that you don’t know how to practise it? What you need to do to sort it all out- is it slow practice, changing the rhythms, making a few notes? Of course, the examples of options to the questions to be asked at each point can be much longer and it may be that it’s a mix of options. However, as long as one keeps to the basic principle, any difficulty should be easy enough to overcome with enough patience. As soon as I started following the processes suggested by my teachers I started seeing huge improvements in my playing. Sure enough, I am well past grade 5, and I am very familiar with music theory concepts; through my musical education I had to study numerous subjects related to music making, from harmony and composition to conducting and music leadership. But that is the role of a teacher- to help one work through difficulties (technical or musical) as they arise; to present new perspectives; to guide. No teacher needs to know what you can do, they’re all interested in what you cannot do, so that they can help you. The job of a teacher is to equip their student with the right process for the student to succeed. We often forget that the process of preparing for an exam, recital or show, is actually far more important than the event itself.
We spend much more time getting the product ready than the actual event lasts. But also, the end result is only going to give us so much satisfaction. After a few hours or days, the “high” of the performance starts wearing off- but we are left with the practice. The work we did to get it all ready. That experience is absolutely crucial, as is the work upon which we will keep building. So, we really have to make sure that we make the process of preparation much more enjoyable and interesting. That we stress its importance to a far greater extent, and that we truly understand its value, is essential- otherwise, all the time and the experience could be passing us by, and we may be left none the wiser.
The thoughts and points presented in this piece are those of the author and theirs alone. Bogdan Jeler - June 2020