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#1252437 - 08/20/09 08:56 AM Does the music you play create associations in your mind?
cruiser Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/19/07
Posts: 1171
Loc: Cornwall, England
During my lesson last night, as we were working on Beethoven's Sonata Op 27 No 1, my teacher asked me what could I "see" in my mind as I played. In other words, what picture/images did the music conjour up?; what story did it tell? I had to confess that, unless suggested by someone else, I'm mostly unable to spontaneously form such associations, unless the association is 'obvious' (the trotting horses in the Allegro molto vivace of the mentioned sonata, for example).

I can say, however, that the music I play affects me deeply on an emotional level and I'm able to recognise - to a certain degree - when the composer intends to convey sadness, joy, grief, darkness, light etc. I say 'to a certain degree' because, for example, Beethoven's last sonata for piano (the great Op 111) meant very little to me until I listened to Andras Schiff lecturing on and playing it in his marvellous series from the Wigmore hall, London. Then it took on a whole new meaning and now moves me beyond words, and sometimes to tears, whenever I listen to it. Point is, I needed to be prompted by someone else before this glorious music revealed itself to me.

My teacher said, more or less, that it's essential for the music we play to conjure up some sort of imagery and/or to tell a story - personal to us - in order to play with real expression. The association may or may not have anything to do with the composer's original intentions. After listening to Schiff talk about the Op 111, I feel she - my teacher - may be right and that my playing will always be 'wooden', unless and until I too have developed the ability to really listen to what the music is saying to me.

I wonder what others think about this.

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#1252450 - 08/20/09 09:23 AM Re: Visual imagination while playing [Re: cruiser]
pianoloverus Online   content
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Registered: 05/29/01
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I think that whether or not music conjures and image or tells a story is a personal thing. Some people do it a lot and others don't. Some teachers use images or stories to try and convey ideas to a student but some don't. I never thought of or heard of "trotting horses" in the last movement of Op. 27! smile

I don't think it's necessary to a great performance.

Personally I almost never do it.

I listened to all the Schiff lectures, but I don't remember what he said about Op.111 that is related to your OP. What did he say that convinced you?


Edited by pianoloverus (08/20/09 09:39 AM)

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#1252501 - 08/20/09 10:33 AM Re: Visual imagination while playing [Re: pianoloverus]
Stanza Offline
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Registered: 01/18/02
Posts: 1458
Loc: Chapel Hill, NC
Cruiser. Telling the story is what separates a true musical performance from a midi sequenced data entry exercise.

For example: You are playing a short phrase and it is immediately repeated an octave higher and to be played more softly. You play it perfectly, and it sounds ok.

Now think of it as a call and response, with a man singing the phrase to a women and she responds in kind. I venture to say the second rendering will sound better, more "alive".

In addition it helps your playing because you change your focus from "how am I doing" to "telling the story"


Edited by Stanza (08/20/09 10:34 AM)
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#1252517 - 08/20/09 10:48 AM Re: Visual imagination while playing [Re: Stanza]
cruiser Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/19/07
Posts: 1171
Loc: Cornwall, England
Originally Posted By: Stanza
Cruiser. Telling the story is what separates a true musical performance from a midi sequenced data entry exercise.

For example: You are playing a short phrase and it is immediately repeated an octave higher and to be played more softly. You play it perfectly, and it sounds ok.

Now think of it as a call and response, with a man singing the phrase to a women and she responds in kind. I venture to say the second rendering will sound better, more "alive".

In addition it helps your playing because you change your focus from "how am I doing" to "telling the story"


...this is exactly what my teacher was saying.


Edited by cruiser (08/20/09 11:44 AM)

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#1252519 - 08/20/09 10:51 AM Re: Visual imagination while playing [Re: cruiser]
cruiser Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/19/07
Posts: 1171
Loc: Cornwall, England
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
I listened to all the Schiff lectures, but I don't remember what he said about Op.111 that is related to your OP. What did he say that convinced you?


Hi pianoloverus, thanks for your post!

I found Schiff's words on the 'Arietta' especially illuminating. He talked, for example, about Beethoven being almost totally deaf at the time he composed the last three Sonatas, only five years before his death and yet, he was able to create music - as Schiff sees it - full of love and forgiveness. He interprets part of the Arietta as taking us to the stars, then down to the depths of despair followed by a transcendentally beautiful, almost holy, feeling of "coming home"... just one example.

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#1252538 - 08/20/09 11:06 AM Re: Visual imagination while playing [Re: pianoloverus]
tomasino Offline
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Registered: 03/24/05
Posts: 2039
Loc: Minneapolis, Minnesota
I often dream up personal narratives to music, especially the music in which I take part in creating. I revel in this, and have written about on PF before. The rection is generally one of mild derision. For this reason, I don’t tell my friends nor my teacher.

I reject the modernist notion that art is impersonal, as well as the idea that a performer is less than a composer--that a performer is merely a conduit through which art passes. Dead composers should be happy in their graves that there are still performers around to bring them to life. I have way too much “self” invested in the music I make to settle for the depersonalization of art—call it “ego” if you will. I exist, and I make music.

I believe anything you can do to make the music personal will strengthen performance and satisfaction, as long as you also pay attention to the artistic tradition in which you work. Use the colors of your imagination, but keep the colors within the lines, so to speak.

Tomasino
_________________________
"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do so with all thy might." Ecclesiastes 9:10


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#1252544 - 08/20/09 11:16 AM Re: Visual imagination while playing [Re: Stanza]
pianoloverus Online   content
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Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19457
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: Stanza
Cruiser. Telling the story is what separates a true musical performance from a midi sequenced data entry exercise.


But just like I don't think of stories when I play, I don't think of them when I hear professional pianists play although I have heard many great perfomances. Hence, my opinion that the need for or desirability of images/story telling is personal.

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#1252572 - 08/20/09 11:48 AM Re: Visual imagination while playing [Re: pianoloverus]
keyboardklutz Offline
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Registered: 05/21/07
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Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
I do believe you have no choice - memory works as images. Whether or not it helps to bring them to consciousness is another matter. I also believe Beethoven always wrote with a narrative in mind - getting at it is the problem.
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#1252594 - 08/20/09 12:13 PM Re: Visual imagination while playing [Re: keyboardklutz]
William Clark Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/19/09
Posts: 93
For me, the music has usually conjured up intense feelings rather than images. The music often allows me to imagine very emotional experiences that have occurred in my life; however, the emotions drive the images.

Isn't this why we play? We spend hours of tireless work studying scores and practicing, but those fleeting moments of indescribable feelings we and our audiences experience make it all worthwhile. I'm currently working on Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor for the organ. The sheer majesty is absolutely stunning.
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A concert should be a profound and magical experience for both
the performer and audience. It is in performance that
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~W. Clark

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#1252647 - 08/20/09 01:51 PM Re: Visual imagination while playing [Re: William Clark]
William A.P.M. Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/09/08
Posts: 554
Loc: Ecuador
to OP:

Yes it does. I don't know what works for others, but soemtimes connecting music to vivid memories or imagining them as "real" moments in the past work for me beautifully.

^This works quite well for me in the case of Scriabin's late music.

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#1252678 - 08/20/09 02:31 PM Re: Visual imagination while playing [Re: William A.P.M.]
Akshay Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 08/12/09
Posts: 17
Loc: Netherlands
I find it quite difficult to imagine a (large scale) piece as a story, though I am sure being capable of it would improve my musical 'narrative'. In a longer piece, you need to find a way to keep the audience interested.

Images, moods, smells(!) [perfume], feels [splashing water] and sounds (of course!) occur with certain kinds of music. Debussy's preludes, for example often conjure up these extra-musical associations, usually the ones prompted by Debussy. I find that using them does help me improve my performance, but only if I say 'loyal' to the score as well.

I love playing polyphony, but don't get extra-musical pictorial associations. You hear the difference and unity of the various 'voices'...

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#1252804 - 08/20/09 05:06 PM Re: Visual imagination while playing [Re: William A.P.M.]
ChristinaW Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/05/04
Posts: 152
Loc: Washington DC
no, I don't conjure stories or images from mot music I play, I am just not into that whole program music thing (and a lot of good composers were not, either). I don't believe at all in what your teacher said. Music is music and can create emotions or affect the senses or whatever without one having to dream up stories or pictures around it. Your teacher sounds very old-fashioned to me. A lot of people used to think the same thing about ballet, for example, and wouldn't like contemporary works that weren't story ballets, just dance or movement for the purpose of creating designs or beauty with the body to music. It's the same concept, as far as I'm concerned, whether dance or music, the idea that there has to be some little picture in your mind is just what some people believe, but some of my favorite composers did not believe that, either. Which is why you won't find cutesy poo little names on a lot of composers'music (like Brahms or Chopin). I just have never liked what is called program music that much (Delius, Wagner, Strauss, Korsakov, etc.), I prefer abstract or absolute music. I don't think Bach was into program music, either.

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#1252811 - 08/20/09 05:16 PM Re: Visual imagination while playing [Re: ChristinaW]
ProdigalPianist Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/08/07
Posts: 1049
Loc: Phoenix Metro, AZ
I do get mental visual images or sometimes wordless emotional images when I play. And when top flight musicians (as opposed to top flight technicians...although you can be both) play. But not when I hear just anyone play. And, when I play, not until I've got the technical aspects well enough in hand to think about other things (I call it...getting past the "playing it like an exercise" stage")

And, for me, it's not as if the entire piece is a coherent story...it's more like a series of vignettes. I suspect your teacher is like me...so for HER it is true. But I think the most important thing is SOME Kind of connection...not a specific type...between you and the music and what you are trying to convey.
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#1253770 - 08/21/09 10:49 PM Re: Does the music you play create associations in your mind? [Re: cruiser]
Damon Online   happy
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/22/06
Posts: 6167
Loc: St. Louis area
I always make associations with Romantic pieces, which is mostly what I play. I think it helps with memorization and makes the piece more fun to play.
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#1253877 - 08/22/09 06:24 AM Re: Does the music you play create associations in your mind? [Re: cruiser]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7892
I think it is complete nonsense that it is essential to have that kind of extraneous imagery or story going in order to play with real expression. Most of the time, the music is the story or the expression; nothing needs to be added. You do need to have aural/musical imagination to bring music to life, but it doesn't need to go outside of itself to function.

But, on the other hand, I don't think it hurts to have a story or imagery associated with music if it spontaneously comes to mind. The problem is that you may try too hard to get the music to fit, rather than letting it be what it is on its own.





Edited by wr (08/22/09 07:27 AM)

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#1253881 - 08/22/09 06:57 AM Re: Does the music you play create associations in your mind? [Re: wr]
babama Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/15/08
Posts: 801
Loc: Netherlands
With classical music, I don't have much imaginary and 'visual' associations. I simply enjoy the melodies, the beauty of it, the depth of the music and I feel the entire range of emotions.

Electronic ambient music however (my other love in music), that's what really takes me to other worlds in my mind. I can also be touched by its beauty, but it is different on the emotional level...less direct and specific.

So classical music appeals more to my emotions and ambient music appeals more to my imagination. I couldn't live without either types of music.

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#1253907 - 08/22/09 08:40 AM Re: Does the music you play create associations in your mind? [Re: babama]
babama Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/15/08
Posts: 801
Loc: Netherlands
Originally Posted By: babama
With classical music, I don't have much imaginary and 'visual' associations. I simply enjoy the melodies, the beauty of it, the depth of the music and I feel the entire range of emotions.

Electronic ambient music however (my other love in music), that's what really takes me to other worlds in my mind. I can also be touched by its beauty, but it is different on the emotional level...less direct and specific.

So classical music appeals more to my emotions and ambient music appeals more to my imagination. I couldn't live without either types of music.


Example of the ambient I like:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyTvSoC5YfU&fmt=18

The sounds, the sound manipulation and the atmosphere it creates... music like this really takes me somewhere. To a mysterious, sacred place.... a place that is simply 'out of reach' for classical music with traditional instruments.

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#1440501 - 05/20/10 07:16 PM Re: Does the music you play create associations in your mind? [Re: cruiser]
dolce sfogato Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/29/10
Posts: 2649
Loc: Netherlands
for inspiration, read Thomas Mann's 'Doktor Faustus', W. Kretzschmar's reading, and playing, of the piece is unique, das ist überhaupt der Grund, das ich dieses wiederborstiges Stück spielen wollte, und noch immer spiele, mit viel Vergnügen, und trotz des Publikums, das so oft sagt daß es ein so schweres Stück sei, unsinn!
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#1440535 - 05/20/10 08:07 PM Re: Does the music you play create associations in your min [Re: cruiser]
Ted Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/03/02
Posts: 1514
Loc: Auckland, New Zealand
Quote:
The association may or may not have anything to do with the composer's original intentions.


This freedom has enabled me to grow to like much music I rejected in my youth because of biographical, historical and social associations. Nowadays I let the sounds, which after all are completely abstract entities, freely affect my mind. Indeed, the same sounds might produce different images and thoughts at different times. Of course sometimes I just do not like a certain sound itself, but such reaction is at least honest, which I couldn't say about my previous rejections through association.
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