On July 9, I wrote about the artistic process of creating as it is presented in the Core Arts Standards (A Closer Look At the Four Artistic Processes: Creating). Today, I will write about the artistic process of performing. As far as the standards are concerned, creating is one side of the coin and performing is the other side; they are closely related. When you think about, this is the way it should have been all along. Both creating and performing music are creative activities, and the composer and performer are connected through the music. In a real sense, a performance is the final step in realizing the created artistic work. A composed musical work is preserved in writing, but because it is intended to be played and/or sung, the intent of the composer is never being realized until it is being performed. This concept of composer’s intent plays a very important role in the artistic process of performing. Let’s examine this process in detail.
The writers of the standards define performing as “realizing artistic ideas and work through interpretation and presentation.” (Throughout the standards document, “presentation” is synonymous with “performance;” the former is used because it more accurately applies to all of the arts, especially the visual arts.) Whereas in the act of creating music the composer conceived and developed artistic ideas and work, in the act of performing, the performer realizes them by bringing an interpretation to bear on a performance. The performance is the sharing of the artistic work with others. The composer creates and develops, but the ideas and artistic work the composer has created and developed are not realized until they are performed.
Interpretation is the act through which performer and composer are most connected. There is first the matter of the composer’s intent. What was the composer wanting to express through this music? How did the composer express his or her intent? What musical elements and devices were used to express? Answering these questions is part of what a performer must do to prepare a performance of an artistic work. Part of what the performer does is realize the composer’s intent, so it is important that the performer as accurately as possible determine what the composer’s intent is. There is also a legitimate place for the performer’s expressive intent. While it should not corrupt the composer’s intent, it can enliven and strengthen the composer’s intent with the power of the performer’s personal voice blended in with the composer’s intent. The two together make for powerful musical experiences, and exemplify the collaboration and mutual dependence that exists between the composer and performer. All of this takes place as the performer selects, analyzes and forms an interpretation of the artistic work to be performed.
Once this is done, the performer must “develop and refine artistic techniques and work for presentation.” Although presented as a single anchor standard, they are better understood separated. At any given point in time, a performer may or may not possess the technique and/or musicianship to handle interpreting the artistic work at hand. Once an artistic work has been selected and analyzed, the performer must take inventory of his or her musical abilities, and shore up those techniques that will be needed to properly present the music. This often involves practicing exercises, scales, and etudes apart from the work to be performed, but as part of preparing to perform that work. In addition, the preparation of the work itself must include practicing it and working out the interpretation, utilizing the newly acquired or refined technique to do so. If the interpretation has been adequately developed and planned, it will be evident when the work is ready for performance. The performer will know that he or she can now share with an audience the intended interpretation, and that the performer’s and composer’s intents have seamlessly melded.
This brings us to the final step in this process: the actual performance of the artistic work. In the standards, this appears in the anchor standard, “students will convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work.” Notice that the purpose of the presentation (performance) is to convey meaning. The whole process was centered around the interpretation, and contained in that interpretation is the meaning of the artistic work. The meaning is the intent of the composer and the intent of the performer kept in proper balance. Much has been written on musical semantics, and whether or not music actually can ever have meaning. I will not discuss or debate that issue here. Suffice it to say that as far as the standards are concerned, music does have meaning, and that meaning is what is expressed jointly by the composer and creator, whether they are different people or the same. It is helpful for students to understand the relationship between the processes of creating and performing, so that when they compose they understand that their work must be performed in order to be realized, and that when they perform, they are realizing the creative and artistic work of another (unless they are performing their own music).