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Deepening Musical Performance through Movement: The Theory and Protion: A Performers Guide to Greater Musical Expression (review)

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Deepening Musical Performance through Movement:


The Theory and Practice of Embodied Interpretation,
and: Sound in Motion: A Performers Guide to Greater
Musical Expression (review)
ArticleinMusic and Letters December 2008with7 Reads
1st Raymond Monelle

Abstract
John Blacking used to tell the story of his search, as a young man, for a
more expressive way of playing a Beethoven sonata. After a long while,
he discovered that the secret was to move the stool an inch nearer the
keyboard. Is musical expression physical or mental? These two books
take opposite sides in this discussion. Musical thinking solves technical
problems, writes David McGill (p. 264); logical thinking about musical
phrasing mentally unites the elements of technique and musicality (p.
267). Alexandra Pierce takes a different view, proclaiming that
movement to music provides a spiral for ongoing transformation, for
becoming more Tuent, coherent, and shapely in expression (p. 1). This
active, inner engagement, she continues, has quite a different
appearance from that of someone who is giving thought to a topic or who
knows the answers already (p. 7). McGill and Pierce come from different
worlds. He is principal bassoonist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra;
she is an emeritus professor at Redlands, California. While McGill
breathes the air of pragmatic and simple-minded professionalism, Pierce
inhabits a land of pleasant fantasy, genial narrative, and spacious selfassurance. Pierces book is full of accounts of movement sessions with
music students, stepping, arm-circling, hand-stretching. It is hard to
imagine this going down well with the hard-boiled students at British
conservatoires. McGill, on the other hand, as well as his programme for
expressive phrasing, offers advice on practising, auditioning, and
appropriate behaviour when playing in a symphony orchestra, all clearly
the fruit of extensive \rst-hand experience. McGills book is primarily a
tribute to Marcel Tabuteau (18871966), principal oboist of the
Philadelphia Orchestra and teacher of many of Americas wind players of
the twentieth century. McGill is too young to have studied with Tabuteau,
but some of his teachers, notably John de Lancie, successor to Tabuteau
at Philadelphia, were taught by the great man. Tabuteau was responsible
for a whole school of wind playing and inTuenced musicians of every
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Deepening Musical Performance through Movement: The Theory and Protion: A Performers Guide to Greater Musical Expression (review)

4/24/16, 10:04 PM

kind, including composers like Samuel Barber. His special message lay in
the area of phrasing, which he taught by means of a number method. He
used numbers for various purposes: to represent volume, with 1 for soft
and 5 for loud, to represent rhythmic grouping, the count always
beginning after the beat so that the between-beat notes lean on the
following beat, not the previous, and for colourphrasing being often
accomplished by variations of timbre rather than volume. A student who
practises in this sort of detail is being subjected to a vital discipline; there
will be no room for expressive whims. According to de Lancie, phrasing is
the art of de\ning . . . the grammatical structure of the music (p. 131).
But when it comes to planning this grammatical structure, McGill is less
helpful. He notices that most music is in 4-bar and 8-bar groups and that
phrases are sometimes irregular in length (pp. 1345). He \nds elements
like metre and rhythm important in controlling phrasing, but his examples
are elementary in the extreme. He even admits that phrasing is like
breathing or walking, but Pierce would \nd his discussion crude. True to
his practical professionalism, McGill presents many pieces of everyday
good advice. Vibrato is important, but one should avoid the habit of
starting notes straight and broadening into vibrato. A beautiful tone is
not enough for expressive playing. Trills should begin sometimes on the
written note, sometimes on the note above, and there is no simple rule to
tell one from the other. And so on. McGill is not an academic musician
and he makes endearing errors. He comments on the \ve-bar phrase
used by Brahms in the St Antoni Variations (p. 135; the whole score of
the theme is, of course, by Haydn, except for the double-bass part). The
essay on Baroque performance practice (pp. 23750)or rather, on our
lack of knowledge of thisis amusingly iconoclastic, but much more is
known than he would like to admit. One part of the book is speci\cally on
wind playing, but in general this bassoonist shows knowledge and
sensitivity across the whole instrumental spectrum. Pierce lays...

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Deepening Musical Performance through Movement: The Theory and Protion: A Performers Guide to Greater Musical Expression (review)

4/24/16, 10:04 PM

Deepening Musical Performance through Movement: The Theory and Practice of Embodied
Interpretation. By Alexandra Pierce. * Sound in Motion: A Performer's Guide to Greater Musical
Expression. By David McGill
No preview Article Jul 2009 Music and Letters
R. Monelle
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