Yesterday, I had the day off from teaching. I got to spend some time practicing, and I also treated myself to an organ lesson from Chris Marks. (Go to his website! Get him to come play a concert at your place. Buy his CDs.) I’ve been working on the BWV 544 for a couple of weeks, and I have found that Chris’s insights into performance practice and hypermetric structure open my mind to the music in ways that I don’t naturally conceive myself.
It occurred to me later in the evening that we were spending time discussing and practicing the ways in which the length of a not in one voice of one hand could completely alter the meaning of a passage. A fraction of a second of length longer or shorter can restructure the metric grid by which we perceive the piece.
I was bouncing some of these ideas off my wife. I said, “Isn’t it strange that musicians fuss so much about these minute details. I will spend countless hours practicing what Chris and I discussed today, and most people will not have any idea about it. Some may perceive it. I believe that everyone will, in some sense, perceive a thoughtful performance, but most of it will go unnoticed except by specialists.”
She responded, “It is a great luxury to be able to spend time on something like that. With so many people not knowing where their next meal might come from, it is a great luxury to spend hours on how you are going to articulate a single measure.”
It is a great luxury and privilege. It’s part of the high calling of being a musician. So, I will spend hours fussing over my articulation of a single measure whether or not everyone who listens can perceive the difference. I’ll do it because Bach deserves it. I’ll do it because the listeners deserve a thoughtful performance. I’ll do it because even the person who doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from needs a little moment of beauty in their life, and my hours of fussing will translate into a little bit of beauty for them.