Friday, May 24, 2013

About laziness and memorization

In preparing this post, I reread my article, Dear Harpsichordists: Why Don't We Play From Memory? Although published in 2011, the article was completed in the summer of 2010, shortly after I made my firm commitment to the process. I've learned much since then--although a lot of my comments in the article still ring true today.

But I'd like to begin with a further exploration of why I stopped playing from memory. In the article, I wrote:

Over the years, I’ve asked myself why harpsichordists aren’t expected to memorize, and, like many harpsichordists, I’d been asked by audiences why I didn’t play from memory. I know of many reasons! Memorization keeps the player from free ornamentation. It isn’t historical. Bach is too hard to memorize. We’re too busy with all of the continuo playing. The world’s greatest harpsichordists don’t memorize. But the best excuse of all is that we don’t have to. This is a great excuse, and I’ve used it so many times that I even recommend it!
I think I was being quite diplomatic when I wrote that article. In truth, I think that the ultimate excuse was laziness. Yes, I didn't have to.

But in the current cultural climate (especially as a harpsichordist!), can I afford to be lazy? When audiences for live music are dwindling, can I afford to give them anything less than my best?

Of course, these questions imply that playing from memory is better than playing from score...and I truly think it is, not just for the audience but for the player(s) as well.