I was having a conversation with someone last Friday about “getting it”.  Either myself not getting “it” or someone else.  “It” was of course related to a topic but I will keep it vague now for the purpose of the overall point.  I was vague and had to back-pedal to defend my position because she gave me a great argument.

Wanda Landowska, a photograph from a Moscow newspaper published in 190

Wanda Landowska, a photograph from a Moscow newspaper published in 1907

She began to tell me how she is a classicaly trained musician.  After we shared our performance background past and present (not a the main topic of the conversation) she went into a little story about the masters Wanda Landowska and Pablo Casals.  Two artists with great histories that you should read about.  Arts, wars and politics.  She mentioned a classic line of her’s when she was arguing to Casals about how to play Bach.  Music that was mostly not written by Bach but by scribes.  Who is to say how Bach would have played it but those who have studied have their strong opinion.

You play Bach your way, and I’ll play him his way, she said.

This got me thinking about musicianship and furthermore on how to describe “it” when referring to seomthing.  Not to leave it hanging out there.  How do I explain to someone that I believe they do not “get it”.

To be followed up that night by going to Prospect Park to see Animal Collective.  I am not a fan of theirs but I was invited by two great people so it was worth it if not just for the company alone.  I tweeted that evening during the show “At Animal Collective in Prospect Park. Nice night, even better company but it’s another turntable act with an expensive set. Musicians?” What struck me was that I was at another packed show of at least 1,000 people to watch three guys with laptops and the occasional instrument.  And when said intrument was used it was minimalistic at best and washed through a variety of digital sampling and effects.  It got me thinking about all of the musicians I know that need to pay rent, mortgage and food on the table for their families.  All the members of the Local 802AFM which I am a part of.  They could be making some very good money if they were working with this act.  When I went to see Nine Inch Nails a few years back I went because I knew Trent now had a band with him.  He was supporting his new album which was more live instruments but he played some classic NIN synth numbers with a full band.  If I remember correctly (and a good friend of mine will correct me on this if he reads this article) that most synth-acts from the 90’s did tour play with full-band or at least more than just turntables and laptops.

Below is an excerpt from a July 1st, 2008 post titled The Internet as Performer’s Forum: A Look at the YouTube Piano Wars and Their Possible Implica by Ludim Pedroza from the Piano Pedagogy Forum. Pedroza is (or was at time of the article) an Assistant Professor of Music at the University of the Incarnate Word, in San Antonio, Texas, where she teaches music history and piano.  (I found it when I Googled Landowska’s famous rejoinder.)

It would be easy to attribute such dialogues to youthful hubris. On the other hand, we must not forget that contentious encounters among musicians and music lovers have never been lacking and musicians often maintain unwavering convictions about what they “believe” is “the truth” about music or musicianship. What I find interesting is that many of the attitudes and comments posted seem to come from an array of young or amateurish participants whose views echo those of pianists since the time of Franz Liszt and Clara Schumann. While many critics and musicians in the 19th century preferred the immediacy, drama, and self-oriented style of Liszt, many others were adamant that Clara Schumann’s more restrained, classicist, and composer-oriented approach was “superior.” Clara Schumann herself often criticized Liszt for providing “faulty” interpretations of certain composers. These arguments, which have been recycled for generations, are beautifully illustrated by that famous rejoinder of Wanda Landowska: “You play Bach your way and I will play ithis way.” Did she mean that there is one “correct” way of playing Bach, prescribed by Bach? Both the scholar and the performer in her knew this not to be so, yet the statement betrays her protectiveness of her own interpretations of Bach. Today we can hear the Bach not only of Landowska, but also of Tureck, of Gould, and many others. So we are fortunate to have inherited the legacies of Both Liszt and Clara. But the question remains, why do many musicians feel so strongly that there must be an absolute, irrevocable, and perennial truth about the meaning of music and musical works? Are these convictions rooted in the intense communion we forge with the instrument, the repertoire, the canon, and the heroes of pianism? How many of us freely and routinely talk with our students about the issue of music’s meaning, about its potential seriousness or lightness, and about the importance of keeping an open mind with respect to the musical experiences of peers and colleagues? The anonymity of the internet empowers “chat”-ers not only to voice their opinions, but to defend them through virtual aggression. Despite its potential negative aspects, then, the internet, as a forum for the discussion of aesthetic issues that are central to the experience of music, can perhaps teach us all something about our own attitudes towards music and musicians.

Her piece is worth reading and I look forward to comments from my audience of music lovers, working musicians and of course those that know that I love a great argument.

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