As I sat . . . pondering . . . during a lull in an orchestral rehearsal, I found myself asking two of many musician’s million dollar questions, “what makes great music great and what makes a great musician great?” Of course, “great”, in this context is a subjective term. However, for the sake of allowing the core message of this blog to stand out, I would ask if interpretations be put aside for the time being.

Most of you know of, and have heard either live or on video or audio recordings, the performances of Jacqueline du Pré. Described as “legendary . . . charismatic . . . brilliant . . . one of the greatest . . . ”, (I could go on such is the extensive literature about her), she was known, apart from her incredible playing, for her “romantic, emotive style.” You’ll find all these quotes if you google Jacqueline du Pré and none of them are taken from Wikipedia!!!
Perhaps I’m about to hit shaky ground here but I will dare to suggest that even if her musical style and interpretations are not to your taste, it cannot be denied that her performances exude a very convincing message. Why and how???

She was a musical genius!
But what did she do?

Yes, she was a fantastic technician, a musical genius BUT . . . her focus and desire to “become” the music in that moment and allow her life’s experiences and existence to interpret every note and every phrase and to live it, there, in front of an audience was quite extraordinary.
Moving on . . .

In my younger days, I never really understood why some conductors were referred to as “maestro.” My naivety was abruptly cast aside when, in a Philharmonia Orchestra rehearsal, Lorin Maazel stood up to conduct Brahms Symphony No.2.
Wow! It was electric! But what did he do differently?

He ABSOLUTELY knew what he was doing and he was charged with a fizzing, ENERGY of ABSOLUTE INTENTION.
And the intention, in this sense, was about the music; it was about EVERYTHING that was needed to bring the music to life. I believe it is the job of the musician to set the music free in all its greatness.For me, nobody sums up the essence of music like the great J.S.Bach . . . “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of god and the refreshment of the soul.”

The very brief examples above are written as food for thought and to demonstrate my INTENTION for this blog.
Being “in the zone” is a rather clichéd phrase which you have all heard of but it represents a key ingredient of successful performances. It’s being in that place where one finds a fine balance of musical focus, receptive and reactive awareness, intuitively knowing when to dip in and out of a technical mind-set and simply when to sit back and enjoy the ride.

I’ve come across other blogs with really well-intentioned advice such as “focus on your sound” or “know the audience are there to enjoy the music” but I can’t help wondering if this simply misses the point.
I would argue that:

  • Studying the music
  • Technical preparation
  • Musical focus

. . . are three of the most important ingredients of a successful musical performance, the first two points enabling the third point (musical focus) to really come into its own.

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