Wednesday, June 19, 2013

(Why you shouldn't memorize: Part the First)

You know my opinion: memorization of music for performance is essential.

Shortly after publishing this post, a colleague wrote:

At some point it may be good for you to rethink the use of the term 'lazy' when describing individuals who do not memorize.  Perhaps that is how you are now interpreting your own situation but there are plenty of variables that lead performers to choose one path or the other.  Ultimately, I think performers need to have a sense of security and safety - not so much comfort which can lead to complacency but the sense that one is free to put your best self forward.  For some, the printed page is a barrier and memorization frees them from that; for others, the fear of forgetting that which is memorized becomes the barrier.
After receiving his email, I amended the penultimate paragraph of that post from this:
But in the current cultural climate, can we musicians afford to be lazy? When our audiences for live music are dwindling, can we afford to give them anything less than our best?
to this:
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?
I really want to agree with my colleague and not offend him or other colleagues--hence, the paragraph revision. However, I am left feeling that there is a sort of political correctness that has crept into the musical world. Because some people have fear or difficulty performing from memory, are audiences now, in the interest of inclusiveness, required to accept a non-memorized program as being the norm?

In the harpsichord world, it is the norm to perform from score. As one famous harpsichordist was known to have said, "In the baroque period, one only performed without music when one was improvising or playing one's own music." Presumably, if I were to play Bach from memory, the audience will assume that it's my own composition. 

In the interest of authenticity, perhaps there should be no harpsichord recitals, because the recital, as we know it today, didn't exist during the 18th century!

And speaking of historical authenticity, another colleague wrote to tell me this absolutely absurd anecdote:

I remember an incident where I took an 18th-century flute duet to my lesson, with a fellow flutist friend playing with me. There was a half cadence followed by a page turn, so I suggested we should photocopy to avoid it. Our teacher told us that there weren't photocopy devices back then and since the composer kindly wrote "tournĂ© vite" at the half cadence, we should just follow his instructions and "be historical". Imagine if I had suggested then to play memorized??
This reminds me of a harpsichordist who said he didn't own a metronome because metronomes didn't exist during the baroque period.

Hmmm...I could go on. I think I shall in the next post.