Russell Hartenberger – An Interview (1996)

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The following interview with Russell Hartenberger took place in two sessions: first in Toronto in August, 1996 and the second in Ottawa on January 10, 1998.  This is the first time it has been published.

Russell Hartenberger (ca. 1984)

Bill Cahn:  Let’s begin by addressing the issue of art being in service to something – in other words, art for art’s sake, as opposed to art for some other personal or social goal.  Here’s a quotation, “In our culture (that is, western culture), the notion of art being in service to anything is anathema.  Service has been totally deleted from our view of art.” What does this bring to mind?

Russell Hartenberger: I don’t think I’ve ever thought of art as being in service to anything – music, anyway.  When you say art, I assume you’re speaking of art in general.

BC. Yes, but for example, until quite recently in history, art was mostly associated with wealthy people – patrons – and the artist had to create something for that person; or for the church, art was created to serve religious purposes.  In other cultures, for example the music of Ghana in Africa, which I really know very little about, the music is largely in service to some social end.  There may be some recreational music, and music for intellectual growth, but a lot of it has a social function or purpose.

R.  Well, if you consider that service, yeah.  Entertainment could be service.  It seems to me that in North American culture music has become a form of entertainment.  In that sense it’s service.

BC.  Is that good or bad?

R. It’s neither.  It’s just the way it’s developed.  I suppose in some specific context it could be in service – to the church or military.  But, in the kind of music I’ve been doing, I think it’s mostly for the sake of entertainment to some degree.  Classical music is still in the service of the intellectual – in the universities, for educated composers and musicians.  In the area of classical music there’s a kind of service to the intellectual elite, which is separated from the mainstream.  Pop music would be in service to people who aren’t necessarily looking for intellectual stimulation, but just for enjoyment or to dance.

BC.  How would that relate to whatever music you are playing, in NEXUS or elsewhere?    Is it some combination of different services to different people?

R.  I think there are different services to different people.  Maybe that’s our problem.  One of the ideas – unwritten or unspoken ideas – in the music that NEXUS is doing is to reach a broader audience than just the classical elite, or to just the pop audience, but something in between.  One of the big trends in music today seems to be exactly that – trying to find a middle ground.  There is kind of a reaction against the cultural elite.  With the interest in world music, musicians have found a way to please the masses as well as a certain portion of the former classical music audience.  NEXUS is probably in that middle ground somewhere.

BC.  When I was in school, I remember constantly hearing that the purpose of the arts, and music in particular, was to elevate students – to get them to think on higher planes.  I don’t hear that anymore about music.

R.  I could never think on that plane.

BC.  Why?

R.  I never really got along well with the elite.  That was one of my problems in music school.  I never felt a part of that.  My background was a very “common man” kind of background.  I never felt comfortable as a part of the intellectual elite, and I never wanted to be a part of that.

BC.  Do you think that the problem is with the idea of elevating – In other words, of classical music being something on a higher level than other things?  Do you have a problem with that?

R.  What I have a problem with is the supposed higher level demeaning the supposed lower level, rather than thinking of it as human equal.

BC.  That leads me to the issue of “high” and “low” art.  There is a definition of “post-modern” art, that it is a merging of high art and low art – high art being the elite art, and low art being the popular or street art, or third world art – non-western art.  Is this something you see going on – a breaking down of these elitisms, or the valuing of something as being on a higher plane.  How in the music you’re playing do you see it or not see it?

R.  This question can be approached from so many different ways.  It’s difficult for me to think in those terms.  I’ve never thought of art as high and low.  The aspects of classical music that I like aren’t the intellectual parts.  I react to it because I like the sounds or I like to play it.  It reaches me in some emotional or physical way.  It’s the same way with other kinds of music.  If it reaches me in a certain way then I respond to it and I respect it.  I want to play it and hear it.   In terms of what you’re asking, I think more and more people are feeling that way too.  There is a general trend to merging those kinds of things.  I don’t feel quite as isolated as I did, say, twenty years ago.  I didn’t feel comfortable with classical music and I didn’t feel comfortable with pop music.  Now, I feel like there’s an area of music that I enjoy listening to and playing that also has a lot of other people interested.

BC.  Here’s another definition of the merging of high and low art having to do with something other than elitism.  There are some experiences in art where the goal is to somehow enrich people’s spirits – to raise them spiritually in some way, and that might be called high art.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s western classical music or music from the third world.

Then there are other experiences which are just entertainment, which might be called, low art.  Do you see either one changing or are they merging too – the idea that in a performance you should have both some spiritual uplifting and some entertainment?  Are there places where entertainment is inappropriate in a musical experience, or is it an essential today?  It is being said today that it’s essential for music, in order to be uplifting, to be entertaining also, to get the listener’s attention in the first place.

R.  The music that reaches me is spiritually uplifting in a certain way.  But, some of that music can be entertainment music too.  I’m not so sure that the thing that reaches me is the music itself, but the performance of the music, in some way – maybe the performers, or the energy of the performers.  Because of my background in classical music, music that has more thought attached to it, in its structure and composition,  has more potential to reach me spiritually than music that’s made for pure entertainment.  I’d put in the entertainment category Broadway shows and pop music.  Those kinds of musics can sometimes reach me, but not as frequently as some other kinds – composed music or non-western musics that are used for specific purposes.

BC.  Speaking of non-western musics then, do you have any thoughts about “multi-culturalism?”  Is it a good thing or a bad thing?  Is it something that you see?

R.  It’s an inevitable thing.  I used to think it was too bad that it was happening when I was first beginning to study world musics and to realize that they were, in a sense,  heading toward extinction.  I worried about it, but now I realize that it’s not extinction; it’s just modification.  It’s just like species changing in evolution.  It’s neither good nor bad.  It just is.  I think that’s happening in music too.  It’s too bad that a certain kind of great music might no longer exist, but another great music that has never existed before might emerge from it.  So, I can’t really worry over it.

BC.  Some people think that multi-culturalism will eventually lead to a uni-culturalism – in other words, that everything will be the same worldwide and the diversity will be gone and the richness of the pallet will disappear.  Do you think that’s in the cards?  I know this is a speculative question.

R.  I’m not worried about that any more than I am worried about all people becoming the same.  I think there will always be differences.  In fact, the closer people are, the more differences they seem to have.  Disputes between people happen more frequently between people from once race rather than from one race to another.  The same will happen with music.  Maybe there will be some more common aspects of music that all the world will relate to; there already are anyway.  There’s sound, rhythm, all the essentials of music, and they just manifest themselves in different ways.  I don’t think it’s bad.  I think it’s healthier for humanity in general to become a bit more homogenous.  Maybe that’s my American upbringing – where culture is that way.  I feel strange in cultures that are isolated from the rest of the world.

BC.  In relation to the spiritual aspect, which is something that is of particular interest to me, here is a quotation by Thomas Moore, and I’d like to hear your reaction: “As the poets and painters of centuries have tried to tell us, art is not about the expression of talent or the making of pretty things.  It is about the preservation and containment of the soul.”

R.  That’s kind of an ethnocentric approach.  I heard an interview with the Dalai Lama on TV recently.  They were talking about Tibetan Buddhism as opposed to some other forms of religion, and he said Tibetan Buddhists don’t believe there is a soul.  Maybe they would say something else other than ‘soul’ if they were interpreting this statement by Thomas Moore.  That really affected me, because I had assumed that soul was the essence of a certain part of life.  For people whose religion I respect very much not to believe in soul at all really turned me around.  Ever since then I’ve been thinking about “what is soul.”  So it’s very hard for me to answer this statement.  At the core of Moore’s statement is the concept of soul.

BC. Let me come at it from another angle.  When he says “art is not about the expression of talent”, I could maybe substitute the word, ‘technique’, or a highly worked-out ability to do something.  Rather, the essence of art or music is something else other than that; it’s not necessarily flashy or fast execution on an instrument, but it’s something more intangible than that, and it reaches deeper into the listener. . .

R.  . . . by trying to express a kind of spirituality.  Maybe that’s a better word than soul, ‘spirituality’.

BC.  Maybe so.

R.  I believe that for myself.  I don’t believe that every musician, composer or artist thinks that way.  There are some people who don’t have that in mind at all; maybe in some peripheral way they do, but a lot of music in North American culture has to do with making money – trying to find something that’s going to sell, rather than something that has spirituality.

BC.  Is it your experience that if you have two musics – one being spiritual and one being technical – that one will be more effective at selling than the other?

R.  Through my experience I haven’t found out what kind sells (laughter).  I think both can sell.  Maybe it has to do with advertising and promotion; I’m not sure.

BC.  Can you think of examples of both kinds?

R.  There have been some kinds of spiritual music that have become very popular.  In classical music, this Górecki symphony is not necessarily my favorite, but it’s certainly got some spiritual content to it, and it’s become very popular.  The music of Arvo Pärt is the same way, and the music of Steve Reich and Philip Glass to a certain extent.  Their musics all have a certain element of spirituality, and they’ve become popular to people to whom normally those musics wouldn’t be.

BC.  What about music that’s technically oriented?

R.  Can you give me an example?

BC.  The one that comes to mind is something like the music in STOMP, which is a combination music and dance experience.  It’s not really about music, in a way; it’s about something else, but yet there’s an enormous technical thing in it to me.

R.  STOMP reached me, at a fairly substantial level.  One of the reasons it reached me was because it was more complex rhythmically than most musics that reach a popular level, and yet it had become very popular.  It was satisfactory to me – and I’ve heard a lot of rhythmically complex music – as well as to the average person on the street who hasn’t heard as much, and we both reacted to it in a similar way.  We both enjoyed it quite a bit.  Maybe that’s the commonality thing we were talking about, and I’m in favor of that.  I think STOMP and music like that and productions like that – it’s more than just the music; it’s the overall presentation – are really wonderful new things that have evolved.

BC.  Do you see that commonality – which appeals to both high and low – as a trend now?  Do you see influences of it throughout your musical experience?  Do you think that ought to be a goal – something that’s desirable, and to be sought by performing artists?

R.  It can be for some.  I don’t think it has to be the goal for everybody.  It can be a result; it doesn’t necessarily have to be a goal.  If the goal is to appeal to a certain amount of people, there’s a danger of not being true to yourself.  Each person has to present the music that’s true to one’s self, or there’s a phony aspect to it.

BC.  Since you are a teacher, what skills do you think the professional musician should have today?  Let me add to that; what skills should students have after leaving a conservatory of music, where they are paying their money specifically to learn to be professional musicians?

R. What skills should they develop during their study at a university music school in order to prepare themselves for a career?  Well, it’s easier for me to think in terms of percussion because that’s what I deal with all the time, so I can speak mostly from a percussion standpoint, but it might apply to others too.  I don’t really deal with music in a more general sense.  For a percussionist, I think the field has broadened exponentially since we were students.  The choices are enormous now for what musicians can do in the music world as a professional.  The possibilities are greater in that most students should be prepared to enter almost any aspect of the musical world.  In another way job opportunities have decreased – they’re not so enormous, because there are more people vying for the same number of jobs.  At least in the traditional sense, there are fewer jobs.  Single job opportunities have decreased so that most people that I know are doing a number of things and piecing them together to make a career.  When we were students we sort of took the symphony orchestra track or the jazz track or a specific side of music that we were interested in and specialized in that.  Now, a few people can do that, but not very many.  The chances of putting together a career with only one kind of music are very slim.  So it seems like the students that I’ve seen – young people that are getting into music – not only with percussion but with other kinds of music too, are much more varied.  And an example of the kind of thing they’re getting into is world music.  The opportunities for creativity are enormous.  They’re being more creative with original music and coming up with their own ideas about what kind of groups they want to play in rather than trying to get a job with some established group.  It seems that the most interesting creative players are the ones that are either forming their own groups, or coming up with their own musical ideas rather than trying to fit themselves into somebody else’s idea.  The percussion field is so great that no one person can master all of the percussion arts.  Each student has to figure out by self analysis and by advice from their teacher what they can best develop into useful, viable skills.  While getting a somewhat general background in as many musical skills as you can while you’re in school, at some point during the time – it’s been my experience usually about the third year of music school – you have to start focusing, or at least eliminating some things that are taking up too much time.  You’ve got to decide what things you can do the best, and what things are going to be the most useful to you in getting a job.

BC.  What are those things?

R.  It depends on the person.  A person might consider becoming an orchestra musician, in which case they would have to learn orchestral repertoire.  They might decide that they want to play drum set; they might decide that they want to become a Latin musician, or do jazz or write music, or become an ethnomusicologist, or become skilled in non-Western musics.  They might want to combine any number of those things.  They have to start honing those skills, but they also have to realize that when they graduate from an undergraduate music program, they’re not necessarily going to be ready to get a job.  That’s the misconception among a lot of undergraduates – that they’re going to be in school for four years and when they get out they’re ready to enter the work force.  It’s been my experience, and my teachers all told me this while I was in school, that you don’t begin to learn until you get out of school the really valuable parts of a musician’s life, and that’s true.  I hate to keep repeating; it’s like telling your kids what your parents told you.  You didn’t like it when you were a kid and you hate to admit that they were right. (laughter)  But it’s true.  I’m saying two things: you should decide at some point what you want to specialize in and do it, but I’m also saying that as an undergraduate you should develop as broad a background as you can, because you don’t know what opportunities are going to open up for you.  It varies from person to person.  The real job of the teacher is knowing when to point a student in a certain direction and when to let them still absorb as much as they can.  Different people do it different ways.  I’ve had students who’ve known what they wanted to do from day one and are now doing it.  I’ve had other who don’t know what they want to do at all except they know they want to play.  They like to do everything.  They get out of school and certain opportunities open up for them and then they start really getting into it.  So, there’s no hard and fast way to do it.  It comes back to the point that each person is different.

BC.  In relation to needed skills, what about non-performance skills, like using a computer, or preparing a budget, or negotiating?  What is the place of those?

R. It’s pretty high.  One of the most valuable skills is learning to write, clearly and creatively.  That skill is one of the highest priorities for anybody, but very much so for a musician.  Another great skill is public speaking.  That’s a hard thing do develop, although it could be developed through talking about your music in recitals, which the school tends to frown on.  Maybe they should change their attitude and have lecture recitals at times, so students get used to speaking in front of people, presenting information to the audience about their pieces or about themselves.  Of course, computer skills are great.  You almost don’t have to say that.  A lot of students don’t have them, but I’m finding that most students have greater computer skills than I do.  Business skills are great.  I think that a business of music course would be great.  I think a great course to have would be one on investment – learning how to take care of your money, how to invest your money from an early age.  I’d like my kids to know more about that.  I know nothing about that.  Now that I’m almost near retirement, I’m starting to think about it when it’s almost too late.

BC.  At the Eastman School of Music, which I know a little bit about, they have created a program called “Eastman Initiatives.”  Part of that is having students have special classes where they develop their speaking skills – not necessarily their writing skills; I think that was really a good point.  I don’t know if writing is getting special attention, but certainly speaking is.  The situation there was the same as you are describing at your school; that kind of thing was generally frowned upon, the fear being that you would turn off your audience by assuming that they didn’t already know enough about music, that you were being condescending or patronizing to them.  The “sea change” there is that it’s now considered a way of helping audiences to understand and appreciate the music you’re presenting in a better way than they would otherwise.  Do you concur with that and if you do, do you think that music schools ought to develop programs to bring out these other skills in students?  Should they be incorporated into curriculums?

R.  Yes, I think they should.  There should be courses, but a lot of the onus should be on the teacher of the individual instrument.  That person can have a great effect on the student.  Sometimes when a student takes a course in something it modifies the impact somehow.  You’re going to your theory class, your harmony class.  Now you are going to your business of music class.  Then you go to your solfeggio class, your ‘speaking about music’ class, and somehow it can all get lost.  But if you have one person who has a strong impact on you to point out these things, it might have a stronger impact.

BC.  Is what you’re suggesting – I can’t think of the current education buzzword for it – maybe interdisciplinary teaching?  In other words, instead of things being broken down into specific disciplines that you go and study for one hour in a class, each of separate disciplines is diffused amongst all of the teachers and becomes part of the general teaching environment.  Should that happen and how would you bring it about, especially when there is significant thought that this is wrong to do?

R.  You mean the old school of thought?

BC.  I would call it the old model.

R.  How do you get that?  I’m not sure how you get that.  An effective way of doing it is somehow to make a requirement of the students that they be able to do these things in their presentations for grades.  In their recital maybe students would write the program notes.  They might have to talk about their pieces before or after they play.  A student might have to present a budget of school expenses to a class – something that’s very practical to that student rather than general, some way that a student realizes how these skills are going to be helpful to them once leaving school.  Most students realize that their recital – performing music in front of people – is important to them in their future, but they don’t realize there other things.  So, if it’s all built around their course of study in a way that they have to demonstrate, then it forces the rest of the school to contribute toward that and focus it in on something rather than just general knowledge.

BC.  Another thing that was interesting to me in relation to the Eastman Initiatives was that some students were saying to me that they felt overwhelmed – that there were so many choices and so many directions to go.  There was so much freedom and so little structure to help them to deal with that freedom, that they were overwhelmed and “blown-out”.  You could choose this theory course or that theory course or orchestra percussion or jazz.  There were just so many options in course selection.  There’s a course on the business of music, and the question was, “you mean I have to be a businessman too?”  It’s scary.  With your students, do you see a phase when perhaps more specific structures simply imposed on them until they get their footing, would make sense?  At what point institutionally do you let the reins go, and gradually introduce more individual options.

R.  Eastman seems to have more options than my school, where there are virtually no options, or maybe one a year.  The way the University of Toronto works, the first two years are pretty much prescribed.  You might have one Arts & Science course as an elective, but almost everybody has to take the same basic first two years.  The third and fourth years you start having some options.  It’s just been my experience that that’s a good turn- around point.  The first two years are years of adaptation to self sufficiency and a new level of maturity.  In the third and fourth year, almost to a person, my students change.  They start looking to the end rather than recovering from the beginning.  I think that might be a good point to start giving them more options.  I think it’s not a good idea to have too many options at the beginning, although you’ve got to make some decision.  You’ve got to decide whether you want to study jazz or classical music.  That decision they make when they decide what school they want to go to.  If they want to go to the Eastman School of Music then they’ve probably decided they want to go into classical music.  If they decide they want to go to the Berklee School of Music in Boston, they want to be more in jazz, or at Cal Arts they might want to go into non-Western music.  One of the basic choices they may have made by the school they choose.  I really don’t know if it’s possible for one school to satisfy everybody’s needs, so maybe it’s better to have a variety of schools with more specific courses of study.  Let me add one thing: one danger of conservatories is that they give you too much of music and not enough of a general education.  The advantage of a university is that there’s the possibility of taking a lot of other courses.  The disadvantage is that they’re not really told about this.  The students at the U. of T. go to this great university, but rarely leave the music building.  If they do it’s to take a course that they know is going to be easy so they won’t have to spend much time doing it.  That’s a great loss for musicians.  It’s much better if they can have a well-rounded education, even if it means sacrificing some of their music education.

BC.  Some of the things I hear students say at Eastman were, “If I have to do these business things, or if I have to study theory or music history, or finances, then I’m not practicing . . . and when I graduate, I’m going to have to take an audition against somebody else and if they’ve been practicing more than I have then they’re going to get the job.”  “How do I make decisions about how to spend my time?”  “How do I deal with this?”  If I was a student asking you this question, what would you say?

R.  It’s a problem.  Time management is one of the big lessons that every student has to learn in university.  It’s a lesson you keep trying to learn throughout life.  So, it’s important; it’s a really big question.  I tell my students that there are going to be times when they can’t practice.  There’s a few weeks during the year when they’re going to get minimal practice.  I try to adapt that into my teaching.  Those weeks that I know are going to be that way, I try to present something they haven’t had to practice over the past week or so – something different that they need to know anyway but that they don’t need to prepare for.  I know they won’t have time to prepare and that’s fine.  The first year or so I was teaching I fought that, but now I realize that it’s better not to fight it and to go along with it.  What they’re doing is just as valuable – when they’ve got to study for certain other things.  I think there’s going to be enough time to practice.

B.  Are there any specific techniques or specific things you say to students to help them with their time management.  I would assume that you have to be an advisor on occasion.

R. Yes, of course.  There are really simple practical things that most people know about: write down your schedule from the time you get up to the time you go to bed – write down every half-hour, and see where those times are that you have spare time.  If you’ve got fifteen minutes between something, then I might tell a student “O.K. there’s fifteen minutes; you go and practice snare drum technique.  You don’t need much room; all you need is a practice pad and sticks.”  So you take advantage of those fifteen minutes and practice one specific aspect of what you want to know.  Don’t try to practice everything, but practice one very specific thing.  That’s one of the keys – just being very specific in what you’re working on.  Rather than thinking of yourself as being swamped, just take items one at a time and don’t feel like you’ve got to practice or study everything all at once, but do it little by little.  Another thing to do as far as practice time goes is discover when the most heavy traffic times are in the practice rooms and try to practice at other times so you can concentrate – early in the morning, late at night, whatever.  Find those times.  Little things like that I try to talk to students about.  Sometimes, the simpler the better.

I do have one comment about your questions in general.  It stems from the last question regarding advice to students on time management.  It has to do with the generality of the questions versus the specificity of the questions.  To me it’s very difficult to talk in generalities.  When I hear discussions of music that start with “what is music” or “what is important in music”, the blinds go down over my eyes. (laughter)  I find that it almost seems not relevant to me.  What seems more relevant is very specific discussions about particular points.  I’m not sure how this reaction relates to what your hope was in doing this interview.  When I read things about music, the more specific the comment to a particular aspect of music, the more insightful it seems to me, rather than the more general.  I’m not being critical of what you’re asking; I’m just making a comment.

BC. Let me pursue that, because really, that’s a good point.  One of the issues that others have discussed in these interviews, was whether or not there was such a thing as a “sea change.”   Do you think it’s helpful to infer from the specific things that you see, that something is going on in general.  Are you saying that it’s not really helpful to take your limited experience – and all of us have limited experience – to somehow infer something that goes beyond your own experience?

R.  What is “sea change?”

BC. “Sea” being the general environment – the winds are blowing strong one day and not at all the next day.  Or, one year they’re blowing strong, and the next year not at all.   Or, one year they’re blowing in the direction of some musical trend, and another year – or another decade even – it’s going another way.  So, are you saying that it’s not helpful to have some generalized sense of what’s going on – that it may even interfere in some way?  I’m trying to trap you. (laughter)

R.  What I’m saying is that this time in our lives is not necessarily different than any other time or any other period of change.  It’s not necessarily even a period of change we’re in, and we’re trying to make sense of it I suppose by asking questions like this.  It’s different than at any other time, but the fact that it’s changing the way people feel about it is not necessarily different than any other time.  From my own personal point of view, a practical approach is more helpful than a generalist’s approach.  A realization of the essence of what’s happening is probably more valuable than a general view that it is happening.

BC.  You said earlier that you thought maybe each teacher ought to incorporate more aspects (beyond their specific field of expertise) into their teaching.  I would interpret that as meaning each teacher ought to have a more general view his or her responsibility to the student, rather than just “my duty is to teach English and only English”, or “my duty is to teach the violin”.  You ought to, as a teacher, have some bigger view, and where does that come from?

R.  The bigger view, in that sense, is what options are available, but they’re very practical options.  They’re not necessarily generalized options.

BC.  Just coming to the conclusion that you ought to be encouraging students to speak well, means that you’re aware of something that heretofore you weren’t aware of.  I guess you’re saying that the “something” you are now aware of is a specific thing and not a general thing.

R.  I’m saying that while the teacher should have a general view of what’s going on, the way they help the student should be very specific.  It’s also the teacher’s job to present things in an orderly fashion and timed so that the student is able to accept them.  That’s a very difficult aspect of teaching – to know when to introduce anything to a student.  Sometimes you might waste a long period of time trying to teach something that the student is not ready for.

BC.  I want to continue beating this dead horse.(laughter)  Would you agree that just as specific actions and behaviors ideally evolve from an overall philosophy or understanding about yourself or about the things around you.  The function of generalized statements or questions like “what is music” is to lead you to specific answers in a clearer way.

R.  Sure, it could be.  Or you could approach it the other way too: that by dealing with very small aspects, you arrive at a conclusion.

BC.  They’re two sides of the same coin.

R.  On the other hand, why do you need to know what music is?

BC.  Maybe you don’t.

R.  Is that going to help you to play music better, if you have a definition of music in your mind?  Is it going to help you sell your music better?  Is it going to help you to be more successful?

BC.  I don’t know the answer to that.  It might for some people; I don’t know if it would for me.  However, thinking about it might lead me to some specific things I might do.  That would make a difference.  Would you agree that what distinguishes the teacher from students – not only in the knowledge of specific things – is that the teacher has a perspective of a larger totality.  It’s maybe a chicken and egg thing – they go together, but which is first?  If you’re only focused on specifics and you’re unable to generalize from them, or if you can only generalize, but can’t translate that into specifics, either way you’re in a weaker position.  But, if you have a balance of being able to recommend specific things and at the same time, to form a concept – right or wrong – about some larger process or environment, then you’re better off.

R.  Definitely.  You do have to find that balance.  You do develop a sense of the general as you gain experience and understand the specifics.  I’m saying it is just more valuable to me to understand a lot of specifics.  The generalities are good to know about only if you have a thorough understanding of a lot of specifics.  If you speak always in generalities, it’s too vague.  But, it should be based on something very practical that you can do, not on a concept – like “feel the wind in the trees, and now play this concerto.”  It should be “lift your stick”, “play this note louder and that note not so loud”, “raise your stick high here and it will sound a certain way and be emotionally satisfying.”  To me, that’s the way music works.

BC.  That’s interesting.  In reading about one conductor – I can’t remember who it was – his advice to young conductors was to never talk about what kind of feeling or mood the music should convey.  Instead, his advice was basically to tell the musicians to play louder or softer, tell them to play up bow or down bow, but don’t be vague; be very specific.

R.  I would agree with that.

BC. But the conductor should still have within himself a sense of what general effect those specifics will lead to.

R.  Right!

BC.  That makes the balance.

R.  I think we agree.

BC.  I think we’ve come to a concurrence here.  Whew! (laughter)

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