I’ve been in London coaching young post-grad and professional chamber groups for ChamberStudio, a wonderful enterprise which provides mentorship and further training for instrumentalists who have ‘finished studying’ but still need or wish to have access to advice and tuition.
Why would people want to go on having coaching when they’ve got degrees, diplomas, prizes and professional engagements? Why make yourself vulnerable in that way?
This topic came up several times during the weekend. One of the young musicians summed it up by saying that some of the most helpful concepts he had encountered – to do with musical interpretation – were concepts he didn’t even hear about until he had finished with formal training.
If these concepts were so important, why didn’t he encounter them until his late twenties? The answer is complicated and probably indicates how much of musical training is taken up with the sheer work of mastering an instrument to the level needed to play the great European repertoire. (It’s possible, of course, that all along the way, teachers were trying to introduce advanced concepts, which the student had no room in their head to take in at that stage.)
A very simple example would be the extent to which one’s musical awareness can be deepened by really listening to what others in the group are doing. It’s not just a matter of playing one’s own part beautifully, though of course that will contribute a great deal to the whole effect. But what we were working on was the ability to lift one’s head from one’s instrument – or from the printed part – and notice, actually notice, take in, digest and react to what the others are doing.
Many groups play as if chamber music is just a matter of several parallel lines being played at the same time. As you look at each player in turn, you just know that their colleagues are shadowy figures in their consciousness. But if you can persuade them to become aware of one another, to allow themselves to be influenced by one another, to see themselves in relation to the whole, the music-making becomes alive.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but in practice it often does. You have to be very comfortable with yourself and your instrument before you can truly let the other players into your mental space. Sometimes this doesn’t seem possible until a person has matured in other ways. But formal education (rightly or wrongly) is usually ‘finished’ by the time a person is in their early-to-mid- twenties. So it’s hardly surprising that there are new levels of discovery which still await.