“Outsourcing”. Comparing Through Exaggeration or Contrast
October 24, 2018
“Outsourcing” is a term I use when I use a second piece of music, one other than the one I am practicing at the moment, as a model on which to base out some quality or other in the practice-piece, but which I find difficult to bring out clearly when limited to how it appears in just the practice-piece.
To select a model piece, I free-associate for something very well known, in the same meter practice-piece, not always in the same tempo, but in which the quality I am seeking to bring out in the practice-piece is already shining brightly on the surface of the model.
Here are some examples:
If there is an element of subtle humor lurking in the passage from my practice-piece, I chose as a model something that exaggerates the comic element in it to an extreme. Or, if there is a subtle sadness passing over the surface of a passage in my practice-piece, then I would choose a model-piece that goes way over the top in sadness and tragedy. With a little careful “gene splicing” I can insert the characteristic found in the model piece into the way I play the practice piece.
In the same way that comedy and tragedy and two complementary lenses through which view the one and the same issue in life, so I can affect other such diverging comparisons. If the practice-piece sounds too ordinary or too beautiful (too affected, too precious) then, for the time being, my model would be a piece that is either too banal and insipid, or too beautiful, respectively.
The model-piece can also be used as a counterbalance to the practice-piece, to prevent some quality in the practice-piece from becoming too predominating.
Here are some examples:
When the practice-piece is in 3/4 time and a saccharine, waltz-like feeling is taking over the piece, I will play a blatant “oom-pah-pah” figuration in my left hand while continuing with the written notes in the right hand. The left hand definitely spices up the right hand. If I am giving a lesson, I will often do this left hand figuration at the second piano. It creates an irresistible force which transforms the student’s notes. Thus, while sometimes I need a model of the caliber of a Da Vinci or a Rembrandt, I can gain as much insight into my passage from a line drawing or caricature. In either direction, exaggeration is just as bona fide a way to bringing out the inner quality of something as is the process of trying to go deeper into it. The process is similar to looking through a fun house mirror, when suddenly we become aware of a curve or line went unnoticed until it became exaggerated or bent out of shape.
Another example of using a contrasting model:
A piece in a slow 2/4, that goes on and on, may eventually become bogged down in its own over-seriousness. I can be bring it back to life by superimposing on it a John Philip Sousa march like the “The stars and stripes forever”. I’ve done just this when playing a solo piano arrangement of the second movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. If that piece is as deep and melancholy as I believe it to be, then these latter characteristics won’t disappear if some good humored fun is poked at it.
Origin of the process in my life:
I developed this tactic of out-sourcing a number of years ago after making a comment to my friend Roy, that what lies on the surface of a “rock” piece, lies under the surface in a classical piece, while the reverse is also true. For example, the rhythm and harmonic progressions in a rock piece tend to live on the surface of the music where they are obvious and unmistakable. It is like the exo-skeleton of an insect. The inside is worn on the outside. The same aspects of the music light the classical piece from within causing it to glow with a more hidden light. So often outsourcing a passage of the piece I am practicing, it is just a matter of switching around what lies on the surface with what lies initially obscured under the surface.
When I “outsource”, I either look for a latent characteristic in the piece I am practicing and then choose a model piece that exaggerates that quality, or I look for a quality in the practice-piece that I am over-exaggerating, in which case I look for a model which scrupulously avoids that quality, or plays it down. In the first case the purpose is to balloon, magnify something latent, by momentarily making it blatant. In the other case it helps a passage from having “hubris” (taking itself or my self too seriously), or to prevent my musical ego from getting out of hand. Either way I learn more about my practice piece as a result of this process.
In life the beautiful exists side by side with the banal, the emotional with the desiccated, a rich harmonic under-structure with a I-IV-V progression, the rhythmically complex and sophisticated with the mundane ostinato of a person reading a poem that never departs or “modulates” from iambic pentameter.