Making Music is Costly!

18th January 2010

Hello again. Last week I played Mozart at assembly because the school was thinking about ‘special people’. In fact, the school is thinking about ‘special people’ for all of January. So I chose another very special composerBeethoven. I played the beginning of the Pathétique Sonata (said ‘Path-eh-teek’—the ‘Path’ is not said like the word ‘path’, but ‘paf’ with a ‘th’ instead of an ‘f’).

First movement of Beethoven’s ‘Pathetique Sonata’

But like last week, I didn’t talk about the composer. Instead I carried on from where I left off. Last week I talked about all the practice that goes into preparing music. This week’s talk was about all the effort that goes into actually playing music.

Making music is a bit like running a race. If you want to do well in a race, you have to train. But no matter how much training you do, you still have to run the race! In other words, no matter how much practice a musician does, the musician still has to play the music when the time comes! The audience can’t hear all the practice that’s gone on already.

So I asked the children how they would feel after running a long and fast race. They quickly told me they would feel tired and have sore legs.

Well it can be similar with music. Playing music can be very tiring. And it can even hurt! My arms and fingers were tired after playing the music today. And they hurt as well. Playing the sort of music I played today is demanding. The musician needs to be prepared to ‘run the race’ and feel tired and sore afterwards.

But that’s not all. To make music, a musician needs to put their feelings into it. They need to reach inside themselves and put something of who they are into the music. They have to give something very personal.

To explain what I meant by this, I read a poem by Steven Turner called ‘The Death of a Fly’. First of all I read it without really thinking or putting any feelings into what I was doing:

Me reading ‘Death of a Fly’ by Steven Turner in a boring way

‘How was that?’ I asked. The children murmured, ‘Not very good’. And I don’t think they really understood the poem either!

But then I read it with feeling. I put myself into the poem. I gave something very personal indeed:

Me reading ‘Death of a Fly’ by Steven Turner in a more exciting way

And the children laughed their heads off! They certainly understood the poem that time!

‘Well, that’s what I have to do when I play music,’ I said. ‘I have to put my feelings into my playing to explain the music’.

So next time you hear live music, do listen. Musicians are giving a lot when they play. They give you all the time they have spent practicing. But they also give you their energy and something very deep about who they are as people.

So whether or not you pay to hear a musician, the musician always pays. They are paying with their body, mind, and soul. They are giving you part of everything that makes them who they are.

I think that’s very special.

Video credits
  1. Pathetique 1 mov. 1 mov of the sonata played by Freddy Kempf.
  2. The Death of a Fly (Boring). Me reading ‘Death of a Fly’ by Steven Turner. First of two readings of this poem to show the difference between reading with and without expression. This is my own video.
  3. The Death of a Fly (Exciting). Me reading ‘Death of a Fly’ by Steven Turner. Second of two readings of this poem to show the difference between reading with and without expression. This is my own video.
Poem credits:
  1. The Death of a Fly. This comes from the book ‘The Day I Fell Down the Toilet and Other Poems’ by Steve Turner, Lion Hudson, Oxford, 1996.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jason Allen 10th March 2015

I really liked this article, and would love to show to some of my piano students and their parents. However, the videos of you reading the poem are missing! ):

2 Malcolm Pullan 10th March 2015

Thank you for your comment Jason. I’m pleased you like the article. I’m sorry about the videos. I deleted them by mistake a couple of years ago when I deleted an old YouTube account and I haven’t redone them! They’re not difficult to imagine. In the “boring” version I simply mumbled the poem in a monotone voice and in the “exciting” version I put some expression into it and waved my arms around! 🙂

3 Jason Allen 10th April 2015

Lovely! Several of my students enjoyed watching this at home. Thank you for adding the videos back in 😀

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: