Well, if there were ever a day to do this particular post, it’s today, Aaron Burr, sir. It’s duel day, and thanks to history and Lin-Manual Miranda we have this incredible rap/hip-hop/pop/rock musical that has reached people who once hated history, who once hated rap, and many who thought the art form of the musical was long dead. So what does this have to do with classical music, the sort that an M.M. should be able to speak about knowledgeably?
Quick back story, my first introduction to rap was in seventh grade at a Bat Mitzvah with Will Smith’s “Nod Ya’ Head,” from Men In Black II, a movie I have yet to see all the way through. I am the very white girl who can rap the whole song and I can also keep up with Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea most of the time, something I have kept pretty private until…well…now. For a long time (and it continues still) there has been a stigma for classical performers who listen to and enjoy pop, let alone rap and hip hop. With the rise in popularity of Hamilton and the musical validity of this particular show the stigma has begun to change, but only a little and in a small crowd.
So, what does any of this have to do with anything, beyond musicians working “Non-stop?” It’s what we can learn from the art form that is rap. -If you listen to Daveed Diggs in Hamilton when he’s rapping as the Marquis de Lafayette his blazing speed might just burn your ears (Guns and Ships). What you find, if you listen, is someone who not only raps as fast as any major patter aria, but also with the same conviction, musicality, and phrasing behind his words.
There is the crux of this particular issue, rap gets a bad um…rap because many rappers forget their musicality when on stage. It becomes pure technique, which is arguably impressive, but maybe not compelling. So what can we as classical musicians learn from these incredible artists, the ones who not only have speed and technique, but also musicality? Well, quite simply that. When we hit a technical study or passage in a concerto how often do we forget that the only reason people will ever listen to us play (unless we’re paying them) is if we put musicality behind it. Rap teaches us that, when technicality is coupled with musicianship and conviction it is impossible for people to do anything, but take notice of what we have to say (and one hopes, what we’re saying is important).
So what are your opinions as Hamilfan/Hamilfam, as musicians, rap aficionados, or a combination of them all? I’m curious, do you find similar things when you listen? Have you considered this before and feel it detracts from the art form that is rap? Or, do you have a totally different opinion altogether?
Piccolo Switch (6/26/2017):
So, the goal of this is not to be like “The Bulletproof Musician,” which I highly suggest you check out. Dr. Kageyama does an amazing job of covering the hard topics when it comes to practice strategy, performance anxiety, and even the really annoying things like plateauing. He’s got a great background in all of that information, focusing on sports psychology, educational studies, and information from professional athletes and performers. Here, however, my goal is to cover my experiences and how they might help my peers.
As musicians, we all go through similar things. The pressure of auditions, professional or academic, plateauing on our way to those auditions and performances, and sometimes, even though none of us want to admit it, the boredom of staring at the same repertoire for months on end. So how do we get through some of these trails, since we all have them? Well, I can tell you one of the tricks I use is to play my flute rep on piccolo.
This came about when I was working on the Nielsen concerto for the third time in my life. I love that piece, don’t misunderstand me, but I wasn’t getting anywhere with it, I was starting to get bored and I had just gotten a brand new piccolo. So logically, what do you do? You make the switch and you start messing with your concerto on piccolo. (Wind players definitely have the upper hand on string players here, because we all have at least one auxiliary instrument.)
So, that opening fifth that starts the concerto sounded pretty silly on piccolo when I first played it. (If you’re curious what I’m talking about, you can check it out here for flute: Nielsen Flute Concerto) Here’s the thing, as I got more into the meat of the concerto, I discovered I could find different ideas on piccolo that I couldn’t find when I played the concerto on flute. The soundscape of piccolo was different enough that I began listening for different things in my playing.
Is this a great trick to use when working on technical things, honestly, for wind players, probably not. For string players, I feel like a similar idea would be playing an entire piece or passage on one string. If not, please feel free to tell me to stay out of your territory. Regardless, when you change the timbre of a piece it starts to get a little less boring and a little more exciting and you begin to develop an ability to translate what you’ve learned from an auxiliary instrument to your primary instrument.
This is something I’m starting to do again, as I’m hitting a little bit of a wall on my audition rep already. I hear different ideas on piccolo and when I come back to flute it becomes a puzzle on how to make them connect. So, what tricks do you have? Feel free to contribute and leave me a note. Also, let me know if there’s any specific topic you want me to talk about.