Over the last two days, we have looked at teaching students to select and analyze musical works they intend to perform. Through selecting, students learn about the music and reflect on their own interests and skills. Through analyzing, students learn how the music is put together; how it works. With this information in hand, the student must then determine what the composer or songwriter’s expressive intent was. Some of the information needed to do this was gathered during the analysis stage. Emotional and otherwise expressive moments and effects would have been noticed and accounted for, and the sum of those moments and effects is a helpful indicator of the composer’s intent. An overly dark sounding, somber work was probably meant to express lamentation or unhappiness, and the means by which the composer accomplished making the music sound dark and somber would have been revealed in the analysis. Further reflecting on the message of the lyrics if there are any, and the perceived emotional meaning will make the expressive intent more conclusive. Sometimes, the context can also be helpful. For example, if the music was written for a scene in a film, the story and action at that point will shed considerable light on the meaning the music was meant to have.
Notice the last phrase; meaning the music was meant to have. It is important to that students not be allowed to subjectively say what they think the music means to them, for that is not the point. The objective is to determine what the music means to the composer so that the students can give an interpretation of the work that expresses the composer or songwriter’s intent. There may and should be some further room for personal expression in the performance, but always with the composer’s intentions in clearly in mind.
By this point in the process, with the knowledge that selecting, analyzing and interpreting has brought, the student has a clearly delineated framework on which to build rehearsals, refinements, and evaluations. The student now knows what he or she is trying to accomplish, what the music is about, how it is put together, what challenges can be expected in learning it, and what the final performance should express. The student then begins rehearsing. The structure (analysis) can be heard through the phrases, rhythm, pitch relations, articulations, and dynamics. Of those, some will need adjusting in order to clarify the structure, or produce an interpretation closer to what is being attempted. Remembering some of the rules from yesterday, returns to the original melody are led into with rallentandos, and phrases are nuanced according to pitch direction. If there are lyrics, the meaning of them is expressed more fully with musical devices until the words exceed the bounds of poetry to express. Pitches are practiced to gain accuracy and good singing or instrumental voicing and tone. Most if not all of the musical vocabulary the students have learned ought to be brought to life in full application during the rehearsal.
When the student thinks they have progressed beyond where they started, a trial performance should be given and recorded. Once this is done, the student then evaluates his or her own performance from the recording, taking notes while listening. These notes and reflections are then put to immediate application as the rehearsal resumes, and the student puts into practice what was learned from evaluating their recording. This continues through many cycles, until at last a trial performance is given and recorded that clearly articulates the structure and form, faithfully expresses the composer’s intent and secondarily reflects the performers intent, and in which the rhythms and pitches are accurately rendered. At that point, it is appropriate to regard the performance as being ready to be given publicly.
The logistics of recording trial performances can be as simple as students recording themselves on their smart phones, or approaching recording stations set up in practice rooms. Alternatively, and perhaps more desirable, is for students to perform their trials in front of the class, which quietly listens to each trial performer in turn. For the final performance, the room must be quiet, and the recording must be made under the best of conditions, so that it can be valid for assessment.