To Barry Green
I have always wondered why in so many languages they use the same verb, to play, for playing games, playing theater and playing music. Is it just coincidence or do they all share things in common? In all three cases there are rules, there is an endless number of possible variations, there is a constant effort to expand the possibilities within the rules and if it doesn’t work, to break the rules and to create a new game. All three of them involve interpretation- the personal view of the player.
It can be an interpretation of a text, or a musical text or it can be an interpretation of a situation whether it happens in life or in the game. Games are to some extent like reality, for they may partially imitate it, but they are not reality. So is theater: according to Peter Brock, the audience in a play is lifted above reality, or in other words, in a play, an alternative reality is created.
I have already mentioned The Chronicles of Narnia. The entire story is about alternative reality and having been written during world war II, the message is that it is up to us to create an alternative reality, often a much better one. The more interesting thing is the “collective alternative reality”, the fact that all the children experience it together at the same time. Doesn’t a good concert create an alternative reality for many at the same time? In games, there are the players just as in theater we have actors and in music we have musicians – they are the mediums. They either play for themselves or they play for an audience. The audience wants to become part of this alternative reality, be it a basketball game or a Shakespearean play or a Beethoven Symphony or a rock concert.
For the magic to happen, we have to explore the borders of possibilities, the borders of our capabilities, and the borders of the game itself. How far can we take our variations and still keep the song recognizable?
I also like to explore the borders of humor and nonsense. How foolish or funny can I get? Sometimes, when we discuss the music in the very rhythm (see previous post), we play a little game where we need to invent lyrics to a musical phrase or to a movement. The only rule that we have is that we cannot distort the natural accentuation of the word. When set to music, each word has to sound correctly.
After the text is approved, we play it on our instrument while we sing our text – first aloud and then just imagine it in our mind as we play. The funnier or the more nonsense the text is, the more it is remembered.
To laugh at oneself, one needs to feel secure. Cubs are very playful when the mother is around. Children in the playground would go each time a little further away from the parent, returning to make sure the parent is still there. In order to play we need to feel secure. We can’t play when we are afraid, neither can we take risks.
A young player walked into my studio the other day. After she played for me, we tried some of my “games” such as the one I described before, assigning a text to the music, and a game of playing from both sides of the string ( DriveADoubleBass video no 6- Playing Sideways ). She seemed very happy and then as we talked for a while I learned she was afraid of her teacher. “What is there to be afraid of,” I asked? “Well”, she answered, “that I will miss a note or that the bow won’t go in the right direction or at the right speed”. “What about the beauty,” I asked? “What about fantasy?” “First I have to get it right and then I will think about it,” she answered. How sad, she is only fifteen and already lost in the professional track. Will she ever be able to recover her sense of play which was wiped out by the lack of security?
There is one more thing we need to remember about games, especially as we go professional:
Games have no purpose other than the game itself. When cubs play, they do not do it in order to sharpen their survival skills. Children do not play games in order to develop their intellect. Even if we decide to become professionals, we should always play music for the sake of playing music. That means taking risks, exploring the boundaries and creating an alternative reality for us as well as for the audiences who will then become part of the game.
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Barry Green is the author of the Inner Game of Music. Meeting Barry encouraged me not to give up and to keep on “playing” not just music.