The holidays, the last month of Grinch tour, and two full days at Disneyland wore me out in December, and I didn't get as much reading done or as much writing done. So, without any type of review or write-up, here are the books I read last month:
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I recently started reading John Eliot Gardiner's Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven - partly because I want to learn more about Bach, partly because I want to read about something other than music from the 20th century, partly because I've always loved Gardiner's recorded interpretations of Bach, partly because I don't know his vocal/choral music as well as his instrumental and keyboard works, and partly because I'm really interested to see Gardiner's interpretation of Bach as a human, and the conclusions he draws ... so quite a few reasons, actually. I'm only on the second chapter (tech week doesn't allow for much down time), but I am already enjoying it particuarly much of what he wrote in the preface, about how we've dealt with Bach since his death:
A nagging suspicion grows that many writers, overawed and dazzled by Bach, still tacitly assume a direct correlation between his immense genius and his stature as a person ... But why should it be assumed that great music emanates from a great human being? Music may inspire and uplift us, but it does not have to be the manifestation of an inspiring (as opposed to an inspired) individual ... Any God-like image that we superimpost on Bach blinds us to his artistic struggles, and from that point on we fcease to see him as a musical craftsman par excellence.
He also goes on to quote from Peter Williams's The Life of Bach, and looks ahead to how he draws information about Bach's life from his (vocal) music. I'll save some interpretations and reactions to Gardiner's writing until I get further in the book, but I already appreciate his attempts to draw Bach out from the Romantic world concept, which still has a powerful hold over how we view classical music and composers. (For something recent on this idea, read Alex Ross's recent article in The New Yorker about Beethoven, who, much like Bach, still has a power over contemporary composers, performers, and listeners - as much his fault and those who helped to create and maintain his myth.)
I’ve been playing piano for over 23 years. (That’s a rough estimate – both my mother and I don’t remember if I started lessons in first or second grade, but it was at some point after I stopped Suzuki violin lessons.) I’ve taken lessons for most of that time. During that time I also played trumpet (briefly) and euphonium, played in concert and jazz ensembles, and directed many ensembles, from marching bands to small pit orchestras.
My musical résumé isn’t one that movies are made from, but it is nonetheless substantial. And, yet, when I sit down in a practice room, I still find myself struggling. Sometimes I hit a groove and accomplish a lot. Other times I’m struck with “practice room ADD.” Striving for better practice routines and techniques is something I’m constantly doing.
Which is why I found Gretchen Saathoff’s e-book Goal-Oriented Practice: How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident Performer such a pleasure to read.
Goal-Oriented Practice is a well-structured blend between technical ideas and more abstract techniques. Books such as The Inner Game of Tennis and Effortless Mastery are great, but they are theoretical and often intangible. Goal-Oriented Practice offers enough concrete ideas to help improve your playing immediately; there are enough conceptual ideas for you to consider many times over.
Ms Saathoff's writing is frank and down-to-earth. She doesn’t mince words, but she isn’t harsh or scolding. As a reader, you know that she is often speaking from experience. (Her personal stories make her e-book more approachable, as well.) She outlines ways to improve your practice environment, how to warm up and learn music, and how to set practice goals.
Perhaps most importantly, as the book develops, she reminds you of the practice tools you “already own” and encourages you to activate your “self” as you practice. This is a reminder we can all use from time to time. As she writes, “Your best practice guide is YOU!"
Ms Saathoff’s e-book format allows for easy accessibility: the book can be downloaded to your laptop, smartphone, or e-book reader, and can be pulled up in the practice room if you need to reference a section or just want to read something to reinspire your darker practice room moments.
My one complaint though is that the PDF doesn’t include active links to YouTube files or other websites. That can be tricky, as websites are constantly in flux and YouTube videos can now be removed if there’s even a whiff of copyright infringement. Thankfully, Ms Saathoff blogs regularly, and is always coming forth with new ideas, information, and links to the larger Internet world.
Goal-Oriented Practice is geared towards pianists, but has great material for all instrumentalists and singers. Even the best musicians need books to read to inspire and invigorate their playing and practicing. Goal-Oriented Practice is worthy of addition to the list of recommended readings. I know I’ll be keeping it close-by for many years ahead.