Why I don’t tend to listen to other performances of pieces that I’m learning – Part one
April 22, 2017
Part One: On being “different”.
I Lived in a family environment that left little room for my own opinions and emotions. Whenever I had what I thought was an original, I would speak of it proudly to the adult “experts” in my life only to be told that my idea had originally been a thought of Plato’s, and stated better than me by Immanuel Kant. This, in spite of the fact that I couldn’t wean myself of the feeling that I had, in some way, done something original with the idea.
Being original was really the only ecological niche left in my local environment. Everyone else was already a proven expert, a master, a deeper thinker than I. What did I have left on which to build a sense of my own being.
So I stuck with trying to be different and original, and finding my own ways to go about things and learn things. For my ego to survive I had to submit to the criticism of the others in my environment.
Everybody said they ‘understood me’ although I never felt that anyone really got what made me tick inside. One of my teachers in High School said these words to me. I should say first that his intention was complimentary, but its result on me was just the opposite. “Bloom, I think I understand you, your motto (which he borrowed from someone else) is: I may not be better but at least I’m different.” It sounded better in French (he must have been a French teacher). I want you to believe that being ‘different’ is not all that it is cracked up to be, it leads to desolation and isolation. I would have given anything to be accepted by others, to be “normal”, but I couldn’t get away from wanting to find the truth in the world through my own efforts, not by reading or following others. For the latter would be giving up the only thing left to my sense of self.
Then I read Emerson’s essay on “Self Reliance”. ‘A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light, which flashes across his mind from with … Yet he dismissed without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”
Then I read in a lesser known work by the great French philosopher Henri Bergson that: when we would read the great philosophers, it is not so much to absorb or copy their ideas. It was to find those parts in the work that resonated the most with him, that led him to further self directed thinking. That a poor reason for rejecting something is that we disagree with it. More formative and creative thinking may come from the thoughts that arise from that disagreement than from many a passage whose sentiment we agree with. And yet we tend to discard those passages.
One of the first times I received a nice sized chunk of musical validation was when I played Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata at a music festival in Québec. I must have been 18 or 19. The next day the great Lithuanian/French pianist Vlado Perlemuter gave a master class. I was invited to be one of the participants. I played the second movement of Ravel’s Sonatine, a piece that meant something special to me. When I finished, Perelmuter paused, and then said to the group, “Ici est un vrai musicien” (here is a true musician). Words have never meant so to me.
Jumping closer to the present. I teach with no preconceptions on how to or what to teach. For the last ten years or so my teaching has gained in depth and effectiveness. And I almost laugh when I realize that it is the very things that I did “wrong” earlier in my life, according to others, including musical experts, that constitute basis for what others are now coming to me.
Let’s hear it for being wrong!
Performances that originally made the greatest impression on me, have gradually seemed to alter, as I develop my own interpretation. Now I trust my musical soul. That if I try to plumb the depths of the music I am learning, I will get closer and closer, not farther and farther, from the truth in that piece through this process of going deep within. For then what comes out tends to be the least personal, and the most universal, and I don’t need to compare it with others. For this it is usually not necessary to listen to the performances of others.