WISSDOMS…

moments remembered from various classes

(many thanks to Margaret Crawford at the Australian National Academy of Music and her students, for compiling many of these quotes)

  • Music is not something you do, it's what you are.
  • We can either deal with our fear and make a friend of it, or we can run away from it.
  • Somebody who may seem confident on the outside is battling their own kind of hell on the inside.
  • There is nothing small about playing soft 
  • The dynamics on the page are the last thing you should read. Fall in love with the notes and how they thread together.
  • The end of a note is a beautiful place; it looks forward to what's going to be.
  • Projection is not about pushing the sound out. Really glow with your presence and people will be drawn into what you're saying.
  • Without love, music is pointless.
  • The magic is in the connection, not the isolation.
  • Don't let practice become an exercise in avoiding ourselves.
  • Confidence and fear are very close.
  • Create time to breathe.
  • Start with expression before technique.
  • [On memorising] The most important moment is just before you play...will you play with fear, run away, or go for it!
  • Don't play a dynamic because it's written, play it because you feel it.
  • We often worry too much about the start of the note and don't actually prepare for the note itself well enough.
  • From the audience point of view, don't rob them of the silence in the music. Let them digest it.  It's all about timing, like the punch-line of a good joke. 
  • Be careful that the metronome doesn't kill your inner pulse – be free, like running water.
  • Practise playing completely still (physically) in order to refine your sense of awareness – your body language shouldn't contradict the message of the music. 
  • All challenges in life are covered by one thing, love! I’d rather put my flute away than be a flute-player who does all the right things, but doesn’t connect with love. I am looking for a way of practising where every moment is driven by love.
  • A burning desire to get the result you want is more productive than learning the ‘hows’. The how should be guided by the why. The word ‘technique’ can send the wrong message to the brain. It can produce a set of sirens and wrong messages, e.g. “I can’t”.
  • The turning point for me, a few years after my studies, was improvising. 
  • Constant over-analysis is killing music. Take the mirror away and you are freed from self-obsession.
  • Technique is the ability to play in an inspired way consistently. In order to be consistent we need to understand what we are doing. The concept that “You need to become a master of the instrument before you can express something” is bullshit. 
  • Music is a personal journey. Collaboration is good, but not if it leads to compromise and confusion.
  • You start out with something magical and you end up with a still-born baby. 
  • [Sergiu Celibdache] “Music is not about beauty, it is about truth. No, no! It’s about liberation from myself.”
  • Now everyone is practising the Mozart concertos in order to get through an audition. It has killed the music.
  • I believe in two fundamental aspects of playing – improvisation and memory.
  • [Re memory] Practice well to consolidate. It is important to establish the pattern that produces what we really want.
  • Repetition – playing a passage once is discovery; twice helps to make a pattern; three or four times the pattern becomes a habit. Repetition involves both conscious and subconscious memorising.
  • It is hard to remember things only with the brain (factually). Passion is the driving force.
  • Create your own language to represent the theory of harmony. For example, give an emotion to a chord – i.e. 6/4 chord could be a glorious dawn.
  • Improvising validates the moment. It is living in the present.
  • Preconceived ideas can take us away from inspiration.
  • Student: -  “I am not sure which interpretation I should select.” Answer: -  Discover the piece for yourself! Memorise it first. Most composers are frustrated with the limitations of notation. Following every dot on the score is probably a sure way of not discovering its meaning.
  • Memorizing is ‘delayed gratification’. It slows down the learning process and you see a lot more along the way.
  • I don’t believe in metronomes. The day the metronome was invented it destroyed the true rhythm of nature and the human body. 
  • Question: “How do you get the idea of sound across to a new, young student?” Answer:  I would encourage the student to improvise. 
  • We need to ask something more of ourselves. We need to simplify our lives – as Ghandi did. One word, ‘love’, and millions of people got the message. Now we have the means, but I am not sure the passion is there. The internet etc. has made us superficial.
  • Question: Tradition? Answer:  You could read 50 books – all different (just like history). I love the sound of period instruments – the holes, the wood and the scale, but I don’t want my consciousness cluttered up with facts and opinions.
  • An irresistible spontaneity is where I want to start and end. I don’t believe in ‘schools’.
  • Question: Is it good to record oneself?’ Answer: I don’t like using that for practice. One concert equals 3 months of practice. One recording session equals 35 months of practice. When I listen to my recordings my reaction, positive or negative, depends on my mood at the time. The sound comes through a filter. Better to record a concert rather than a practice session.
  • Here is a new concept of a flute course. Videoed performances in the morning, and discussions held in the afternoon.
  • In any recording or film a huge part of the performance is missing. Recording can become a process of avoiding ‘the now’. Body language is important, but filming it is not as good as the real thing; like the difference between watching a tennis match on TV and watching one live.
  • Regarding memorising, you don’t have to start when you’re young. 
  • Sometimes when you can’t remember a performance you gave, it is a good thing; it can mean you were truly living in the moment. 
  • When you warm up, you are warming up your emotions. They are the motor, not the icing on the cake. If the emotions are burning, so is the body.
  • In every conversation there are two realities – what is being said and the hidden part. The hidden part is the more important part.
  • The emotional high-point of the phrase is not the beginning, but the end!
  • When you hold a static instrument, such as a wind instrument, the body language becomes highlighted. We become more conscious of the eyes, the face, the breathing etc. Any discomfort is clear to us.
  • Put yourself into someone else’s perception and react to that.
  • It is not natural to put the flute to your face and stand still for a while and then breathe. Breathe in while you are raising the flute.
  • When you can finally play something the way you want it, then do it again a few more times. 
  • You need to build up a breathing stamina. Arrive at the end with something to spare.
  • Start your practice session with a run-through. That is as close to a concert as you can come.
  • You need more silence. The delay will increase the expectation.
  • I am not a believer in dynamics for their own sake. All must come from true emotion.
  • You must be connected before you start playing.
  • If you are running out of air you are either playing too loud or too slow.
  • To fix a breathing problem, play the same phrase again and hang on longer to the last note. Always set your aim further. Subordinate the breathing to the meaning.
  • I am all in favour of alternative fingerings which produce better results, but you need to be ruthless with your right-hand little finger. Regarding Bbs, always go for the most legato option and avoid cross fingerings.
  • Think in terms of the connection between sounds.
  • Regarding tension, if it is present in your practice it will be multiplied many times in a performance. Tension is not just performance nerves. Tension is not bad in isolated cases, but when you play with a little bit of tension all the time, that’s cancerous. There are three main issues that lead to tightness: 1. playing too loud, 2. playing too fast, and 3. breathing.
  • When you feel you need to scream, you have no authority. Think of the word “gentleman”. A man who needs to show his strength all the time is a weak man. A gentleman is in control of his strength.
  • Don’t feel trapped in rhythm; the idea that rhythm is rigid is flawed.
  • You may think this is too soft. The thing is, you are making a strategic retreat, which gives you room to rebuild. 
  • Find the dynamic which serves all the notes. Ducks walk as fast as the weakest duckling, or the duckling will get eaten by the wolf. 
  • Where are you going? You need to develop a very strong opinion of where you are heading in a phrase. 
  • There is a difference between taking risks and committing suicide.
  • I believe in memorizing, but when you are forced to do it, it negates the whole experience. 
  • [How to memorize] Don’t repeat a phrase over and over. Always play the end of the preceding phrase and set foot into the next one. You need to make the links inspired. Every step is healing and consolidating. Don’t feel bad about the small quantity of music you are able to play by memory, just concentrate on quality.
  • The dynamics on the page are the last thing you look at. Understand the music first; the dynamics will grow out of this.
  • One’s blind spot is often the end of a note, or the end of a phrase. The question mark at the end of a note is a very fertile spot to ask ‘where do I want to go from here’? The end of a note or phrase is a very powerful moment.
  • If you find the right meaning, this will give you the right sound.
  • Don’t try to push your way forward: allow the music to flow. Water falls forward, is pulled by gravity. The flow helps to generate the energy.
  • The harmony gives you the cosmic beats. The more beats we put in the bar, the more [negative] tension this produces.
  • [Regarding soft notes] It’s better to get all the notes rather than to wreck them by playing too softly.
  • [Approaching a new piece] Spend one or two days getting to know it. Get a grasp of the total picture; don’t jump straight to the hardest bits. Then build the piece from the beginning. Make it add up. Form a foundation, and your confidence will grow slowly and surely.
  • In L’aprés-midi, focus on the lazy afternoon, not on Pan. Don’t use the oboe sound too often. It is like a weapon. You only use it when you really need it. There needs to be something hidden about the sound.
  • Projection is not about pushing out energy, but about drawing it in. If you glow with the presence, you will draw people in and save energy.
  • The peak of the phrase happens at the end, not at the beginning or in the middle.
  • Practice a long note, time it, and then extend it.
  • A little bit of tension for a long time will lead to painful stiffness. Keep the music moving around; keep the colours changing and you will avoid stiffness and anxiety. 
  • Nothing sounds weaker than a weak person trying to sound strong. Don’t try too hard. Focus yourself on yourself – don’t scream.
  • Music is not something you do, it’s something you are!
  • I believe in duality. Male has some female qualities, female has some male.
  • We often make a fetish of one aspect of music-making, for example the sound, – such a small part of the whole picture.
  • My experience of music is unapologetically sensual. I take in the feelings. I dispense with the intellect. To regain my confidence I had to find my own way.
  • We tend to lock into the physicality of playing the instrument.
  • Sow the seeds evenly! Practice for June and then for next week.
  • Never go to the instrument in desperation.
  • Sometimes having a smaller amount of time is more productive.
  • [Warming up] Do it with your natural voice. Warming up can be soul-destroying. Practice is a drug. It can be addictive. Tone, Scales, Colours, Fingers ... all these boxes. It can be a recipe for ‘Humpty Dumpty’ ... you can never put the pieces together again.
  • When I started improvising (for warming up) I became a ‘born-again’ musician. What came out was Arabic; that was me. I am a human being first and a musician second. A distant third is being a Lebanese. 
  • Jazz can be more about habit and memory rather than a trip into the unknown. Jazz players are often more regimented than classical players. Sometimes too much understanding of the formulas of harmony can desensitize one. 
  • Memory and improvisation are two opposite sides of the same coin. These are the two legs on which I stand in my practice.
  • There are two things I hate – religion and metronomes.
  • We often make many unnecessary habitual movements in starting a note. It’s like taking a detour to your approach.
  • Don’t spend your breath all at once. You can do it by aiming further. Get used to calculation of the breath, not by focusing on the first note, but by aiming for the last. Create a margin for error ... if you want to get to the A then aim for the D. Adjust the dynamic and the speed [to help save air]. Don’t haemorrhage air. 
  • Don’t pop from one note to the next; find the connection, then move backwards and forwards between adjacent notes. Practice the relationship between the harmonics – that’s often where we lose air. Practice playing D2 and A2 together pppp (fingering low D). It’s easier played quietly. It teaches you that with minimal movement you can access both the notes and that they are fundamentally related. (Just like people. Don’t define the world by disparate realities).
  • Protect your embouchure by using alternative fingerings. It’s a question of choosing. Don’t be afraid of choice. Always take the simplest fingering and the easiest – the best one for that situation. 
  • You can be just as busy in a slow section. Don’t zone out! Focus on colour changes, inflections, dynamics, legato. 
  • Match body-language to mood. Knock out the habits – the patterns. Be aware; otherwise you are hostage to the patterns, as in real life.
  • When we practice loud we get better at being loud. When we practice being bored we get better are being bored.
  • Body language needs to confirm the result of the breath, not the need for it! Give yourself time to breathe. A rushed breath causes tightness. Create time in which to breathe and make sure you recover.
  • You can buy a fingering chart. You can pay money for something that is teaching you how not to think. Find your own fingerings that allow you to do what you want to do. 
  • Many teachers say “Master the instrument so that you can express what you want.” No! Turn this upside down! Know first what you want to say and then find the means express it. 
  • [To a student bending her knees] You look like an English bobby – “ ’ello, ’ello, ’ello!’ ”
  • Learn to live with the danger of fear. Learn to love your fear. 
  • The first step is practising alone; the second level is playing in front of other people
  • Memorizing takes repetition, but too much repetition makes can lead to rigidity.
  • Try not to repeat a mistake or you’ll get good at it.
  • So much of memory is involuntary. Most of my memory is tactile and sensual. I am aware of breaths, of fingers, of feeling and phrasing. 
  • Find a way that fires our imagination. There is a multitude of ways. Close one door and you open another.
  • How to memorize – read once then play several times, without the music.
  • There are two elements to sound – it needs to be open and it needs to be clear. Look for a happy medium.
  • Always prioritize the phrasing over the sound. The first priority is to finish the sentence. You need to see the end coming from miles and miles away. 
  • We don’t support the sound of a single note, but of a whole group of notes. Playing note by note is unsustainable.
  • The diminuendo at the end of a phrase is an intensification of the energy into silence. 
  • Refusing to play by memory is like having wings and not using them to fly. You need to be an incurable optimist. Be in the zone of doing, not thinking about doing.
  • If you exercise love, you become more capable of loving. The same thing with hate – the more you hate the better you get at it. The same thing with memorizing. 
  • To be unconnected with our feelings is to be in the world of the living dead.
  • Don’t play a dynamic because it is written; play it because you really feel it. 
  • Don’t memorize in order to follow exam requirements, but because you really want to. Don’t be taken hostage by something you messed up 8 or 10 years ago.
  • Breathe in as you are going to breathe out.
  • Play with authority. You must be able to eyeball the listener. Not like being called up in front of the headmaster.
  • [Regarding obsessive use of the long Bb] I could hop to London on one foot, but that would only make one foot stronger, while the other one goes lame.
  • Institutional learning makes us numb.
  • Intuitive playing involves sensuality and emotion, unlike thinking.
  • Representation of ideas through body language – say what you play!
  • [Re orchestral playing] Bring tuning up in a way that doesn't make people defensive.
  • Repetition can dull the mind.
  • Email from Wissam:
  • so life can be reduced to a few quotes? hmmm….I feel a little uncomfortable with that, because it leaves no room for contradictions, which life is full of.
  • (that’s another quote)