Friday, June 14, 2013

Why, according to me: Chapter One

In my previous post, I listed some of the reasons why one should memorize based on my thoughts from a few years ago. Since then, some new reasons have arisen. With working from memory:

  • My technique is more solid. Memory practice requires repetition--usually slow repetition--and this insures greater accuracy. 
  • I can travel more lightly. Of course, I always bring scores to performances--probably just a superstition at this point--, but it's nice to be able to practice mentally on the beach, on the plane, while trying to sleep...anywhere!
  • I'm much more aware of intonation issues. As a harpsichordist, I'm always aware of tuning issues, but now I hear them better. More so, I can address them: without the music desk in place, I can tune when I need to and with little trouble. Regardless of instrument, I am sure that playing from memory makes one much more aware of one's intonation and the intonation of others.
  • This should go without saying: I know my music better. I have quite a few anecdotes about how poorly I knew my music pre-memory. The most salient, perhaps, is that, having playing the C Major Prelude from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I for the longest time, I never realized that the second phrase is asymmetrical. It's seven bars long! Not four, not eight...but seven! Now, if you've ever wondered why accurate playing can be boring, I'll suggest that, at least in this case, it's when a player has no idea about what's going on with phrase length. Maybe I'm just a lousy musician, but how in the world could I have not noticed a seven bar phrase after so many years? I'll tell you how: I was playing from score, and I wasn't forced to go through the process of memorization, a process that forces the acknowledgment and comprehension of certain key elements of the musical process--such as phrase length.
  • I wasn't aware of this before returning to memory, but now, if I practice with music for a long time, I notice some back and neck pain. I suggest that playing without score puts one into a more natural posture. Indeed, it's more ergonomic.
  • I have pride of ownership. How nice it is to go to an instrument and play from heart! This music has become my music.
  • Finally, this has been a shot in the arm for my mid-career (if 41 is mid-career). It's very easy to get bogged down in wondering what one should practice, how much, how little, and even why. Having memorization as a goal removes the existentialism from the practice room, and it puts one's work into laser-sharp focus.
I've written about some general issues here, but in my next post I'll write about how working towards memory forces all of the good habits that we learned (or should have learned!) as students.