What makes music worthwhile? With Schubert’s “An die Musik” in mind, most of us would probably say that it carries us away into a better world. But for me the answer goes beyond how music affects us as individuals. I want to focus instead on what it means to make music with each other. Amateurs, who are used to mixing the musical with the personal, will jump readily into this conversation. I also hope to interest young professionals whose training has not too far misguided them, musicologists who think about what players actually do with the notes, and teachers who are open to pondering their social responsibilities. As grateful as we are for music’s comfort, a better world requires help from us all.
In the first section of this book I explore our musical relations with our colleagues. I illustrate these interactions with mostly classical-period excerpts by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. The eighteenth-century Enlightenment, which produced these giants, stood for rational thought and behavior. Its art parsed and framed human feelings within social order and tradition. At its best, classical music binds us together through a musical language that acknowledges common experiences, expectations, and values—both artistic and societal. I believe that a better understanding of this language can inspire us to relate better to each other.
The second section of this book concerns our relations with music itself—in other words, our understanding of what it is trying to say. Because musicians have steeped in romanticism for two centuries, we no longer understand how an eighteenth-century listener could find intense emotional satisfaction contemplating a musical structure—could infer from its elements every aspect of human interaction: conflict, cooperation, turmoil, tedium, distance, intimacy, misunderstanding, agreement, betrayal, support, surprise, anticipation, apprehension, relief, and so on. A classical work implied not only the reality of human relations but also a vision of moral order. The history of these listening habits—radically different from ours—is beyond the scope of this book (though endnote 52 will help you investigate). But I do hope to encourage a probing attitude and an openness to analogy when engaging with classical-period music. Sometimes I anthropomorphize music to flesh out my points. Sometimes I touch on politics and psychology. The eighteenth-century musician would have found all to be fitting reflections about an art that encompasses our world of relationships.
The third section addresses the issues of training and nurturing—essentials for a life of musical and interpersonal fulfillment. Nurturing is even more important than training, so I spend more time on that. Teachers and coaches need to consider what power they have over their students. Without respect, understanding, and enthusiasm their students cannot thrive. Even teachers who manage to criticize without belittling are often content to let students think of music only as a struggle with a craft. Private teachers fill the hour with supervision of finger exercises, and coaches belabor the hard spots. How demoralizing to focus only on deficiencies! How much healthier, for both student and teacher, to give equal time to what’s going right—and even more important, to stretch students’ awareness of how music connects to the world of human relations.
This book points in many directions. Beginning chamber players or their teachers might use Part I as a checklist for how to start a piece and how to keep it going. Parts I and II could structure a college or conservatory chamber-music course that covers ensemble skills and artistic inquiry. Part II by itself could outline a music-appreciation course. Those bent toward musicology (and more sophisticated listeners in general) will find thought-provoking analyses. I particularly hope to stretch veteran performers’ rhythmic imagination.
The Glossary refers amateurs and students to simple explanations of technical terms, and the Index of Music Excerpts gives them a place to start when reading or studying a particular work. I hope that all teachers will compare their assumptions, routines, and experiences to those that I describe in Part III.