Moving Music

2011 Symposium2Let me just say straight out that I don’t think it is possible to understand, appreciate, or be “moved” by a musical work unless one moves. The physical body is expert in understanding the beats, rhythms, and spatial placements that make up music. Because I believe this, I find it interesting that so few symphony musicians move while playing in the orchestra, but are much more apt to move while playing a concerto, sonata, or even in a chamber ensemble. Why is that? Today, I will explore this observation.

This whole issue is a matter of how music is interpreted and who interprets music in a symphony orchestra compared to a chamber ensemble or soloist.There is a dynamic in a symphony orchestra that does not exist when playing solo or chamber music. Though every musician in a symphony orchestra is an exemplary musician, each one cedes the function of interpreting to a conductor. The conductor’s primary function is to interpret the music the orchestra is playing. He is in an excellent position to do this, because he or she is standing, moving, and has plenty of open space around him. We don’t (usually) hear music emanate from a conductor, but we see what the music sounds like, conveyed through movements. The musicians see this too, and what they see the conductor doing governs how they play the music. The interpretation does not originate with the people playing the music; the musicians ascertain the interpretation and transfer it from what they see to what they do. Because they are agents through which the conductor’s interpretation is conveyed, there is little need for them to understand and interpret the music the way the conductor does, so there is correspondingly little reason for them to move while they play.

Contrast this with how a solo or chamber music is interpreted. In these cases, there is no conductor. There may be a leader of a chamber ensemble, but even so, the process by which an interpretation is reached is typically more democratic and collaborative; there are discussions and explorations of different interpretations, and discussions on how a passage may go. It is also possible, because of the small number of musicians involved, for the players to respond musically to each other, playing off of each other’s decisions on phrasing and nuance, so that the interpretation evolves out of an organic process that may never reach a final resting point, as these interpretive interactions continue right through a performance and on to another. Because chamber musicians are true interpreters, and not only conveyors of someone else’s interpretation, they move while they play.The movement Conductor Feebacknot only helps each musician understand and make an interpretation, but it also helps unify the performance. A nod from all together communicates that a certain stress is to be placed at the next beat, much as a conductor would prepare such a moment. Movement in unison among the players is way of sharing in an interpretation beyond the sounds, as each one’s body transmits and receives emotional information that helps make an emotional response to what is being played, and build the emotional expression that will follow.

In addition, there are also a different kind of motions that musicians make as they perform. I am thinking of the executive movements required for physically playing an instrument. Not only does the flowing extending and collecting of a right arm guide a bow along a violinist’s string to produce an expressive tone, it also sends the sensation of beauty and legato through the players body. The elegant and gentle placement of a clarinetists fingers on the keys and tone holes, or the finessed striking of a timpani by a skilled timpanist do the same. It is at once choreography and utility, music in motion and body parts in motion dedicated to making and expressing that musical motion. All of this applies equally to the soloist, who stands in front of a piano or orchestra, free to move and interpret as a conductor, but with the added advantage of being the sound source. The soloist and conductor will frequently exchange glances, facial expressions, movements and gestures, all of which are expressive and informative to the other. By such means, the two interpreters meld together as one. So it is too with soloist and accompanist, though a pianist is restricted in movement to the head, shoulders, arms and hands. Still, how expressive is the force with which a powerful chord is produced, or the elegance with which a melody or accompanying arpeggio is coaxed out of the piano. All of this motion is inseparable from the priceless result, which is the making of great music.

How Are We Doing Preparing Students for Careers in Music?

2011Symposium_1_2Preparing studnets for careers in music is appropriately  done in electives rather than in required general music classes. The latter will typically have a small percentage of students who intend to or are even considering a career in music, so focusing on career preparation in general music quickly results in a relevancy problem for most students in the class. Electives, on the other hand, are the perfect venue for preparing students for music careers. These classes are filled with students who have a specific interest in music, and will either pursue careers in music, or just enjoy learning what is taught as music career preparation. With this in mind, I’d like to look at what careers we should be preparing students for in these specialized elective classes. While the particular interests of the students enrolled should be addressed, music educators teaching these classes should be aware of the employment climate for music careers, and both prepare students for, and make student aware of the music career that are most available and that are high paying.

Forbes reports on twelve high paying music careers. It is important to keep in mind that not everyone will make top dollar in these careers, and that earning potential is in some cases much higher than what one can expect to make at the entry level. With that said, these careers should not surprise anyone, although they may be overlooked too often in school music curriculums and courses of study.

The first career is video game audio. With the expansion of the video game market,thinking music and the ever increasing pace at which new games are being developed, especially by private entrepreneurs, the demand for game soundtracks is a growing field that already affords many opportunities. Some of the success at earning on the high end of the salary range depends on the success of the game for which a composer is writing, and for developing successful working relationships with game authors who are producing consistently successful products. Forbes reports that “Though salaries start low—$18,000 for an assistant engineer who creates rough mixes in the studio—they can rise quickly. Audio directors often earn up to $140,000 per year for overseeing video game projects, while audio tool developers can pull in as much as $150,000 for writing code.” The take away for music teachers here is that top dollar goes to the people who are not only accomplished at the musical tasks involved, but that are also skilled at the non-musical tasks of developing software tools and writing computer language code. Some music educators will be qualified to include code writing in their courses, but many, including me, will not. This is a natural for a cooperative learning environment in which computer code is taught by an engineering or computer science teacher in cooperation with the music teacher teaching the musical end, to create a project that includes music composition, music sound engineering, and computer code writing.

The second career is orchestra musician. This is more in line with the typical conservatory training music teachers have, and with the usual musical offerings found in school music programs that include instrumental ensembles. The salary range is about the same as careers in video game audio, but the variable is location. Starting salary for a musician in the Alabama Symphony is $36,594, while the starting salary for a musician in the Boston Symphony is $132,028. Because music programs probably already include instruction on orchestral instruments, an additional elective is probably not necessary.

small group instructionMusic Therapy is a growing field for the musically trained, and one that does not typically fall within the realm of school music courses. Once again, the most effective way to prepare high school students is to work cooperatively with teachers in other departments. Teachers in psychology and special education can be enlisted in a cooperative learning situation. Students can learn from the psychology teacher, and to a lesser extent from the music teacher,  about how the mind works and how it responds and changes in interaction with music. Students can also learn about mental disabilities and how music can help people with those disabilities from both the psychology and special education teachers. As a further offering, students can take time in their school day to use music to work with special education students under the supervision of the special education teacher.

Other careers include film and television music supervisors, with a salary that goes as high as $500,000 annually, music attorney, conductor, booking agent, with a salary of up to one million dollars, recording engineer, road manager for traveling bands, bioacoustician, session musician, and music communications/publicity. While preparing students for some of these careers are difficult in a public high school where resources can be limited, and is more effectively done in college degree programs, just having the knowledge and awareness of what students will need to learn in these college programs should inform the curriculum decisions music teachers make that affect their own programs.