We notice interpretation easily with innovation

I spent a very enjoyable early evening last night listening to a classical music house concert. It reminded me of being in college. I went to a college with a conservatory of music, and enjoyed the frequent informal concerts. This was of higher caliber, to be sure. Thanks to BC and TG for the welcome.

One of the players last night was violinist Nurit Bar-Josef.

Nurit Bar-Josef was appointed Concertmaster of the National Symphony orchestra in 2001. She was previously Assistant Concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops, and Assistant Principal Second Violin of the Saint Louis Symphony haza_nurit_smOrchestra. Her solo appearances include performances with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, Boston Pops, Boston Classical Orchestra, Alexandria Symphony, Virginia Chamber Orchestra, International Symphony Orchestra (Israel), and Corpus Christi Symphony Orchestra. Bar-Josef received her bachelor’s degree from The Curtis Institute, where she studied with Aaron Rosand and was the recipient of the Fritz Kreisler Award for Violin upon graduation. She continued her studies at the Julliard School with Robert Mann. Bar-Josef is a founding member of the Dryden Quartet, a group she formed with NSO Principal Violist Dan Foster and his cousins Nicolas and Yumi Kendall, and the Kennedy Center Chamber Players, which features leading members of the National Symphony Orchestra.

I thought Bar-Josefs playing of an Ysaye Sonata was very strong. Not only technically, but in artistic interpretation. Something about her playing reminded me of a video a friend shared on Facebook yesterday. I think we notice interpretation more when it is innovation. The video documents some really amazing inventive new virtuosity. Worth watching/listening to.

The innovations in the video, by Nathan Flutebox Lee and Beardyman, reminded me of Bobby McFerrin. Bobby McFerrins work goes beyond entertainment, though. I think the video above is just amazing. I do remember being similarly charmed by Bobby McFerrin when I first heard his music.

While at Oberlin one of my friends told me that, having been rejected from conservatory, Bobby developed his technique by sitting in closet singing into a tape recorder for two years.

I found the following on an interview:

He described his technique in simple terms. “There really is nothing to teach. I just tell them that it’s yodeling, that’s what it is. There really is no great secret behind it,” he said.

Inspired by pianist Keith Jarrett’s improvised solo concerts, McFerrin, 56, says he begins his solo shows with a spontaneous work, then adds composed songs.

“The secret behind improvisation is just motion. You sing one note after another and just keep going,” he said. “The moment I walk out I am hearing what you are hearing for the first time.”

In another article I found the following:

Academy: What made you decide to go into this world that is so different than singing regular vocals?

BM: In the beginning I was really fascinated with the “solo art” and solo musicians, like Keith Jared playing solo piano and improvising, and I thought as a singer that I would like to try something like that. So I developed this technique that would enable me to put across melody, harmony and the bass lines. The basis of everything I do is solo concerts, being on stage by myself, improvising, singing tunes or mcferrin-0416-02what ever comes up. I didnt have any coaches. I knew what I wanted to do and could see myself doing it first, but I couldnt hear what it sounded like. I was really fascinated by the challenge of being on stage by myself, because singers more often than not, especially young singers as they are studying music, have a tendency to fall back on, or rely on an accompanist of some sort. And so theyre not self reliant in the beginning. I wanted to make sure that I was very strong in my voice and my technique so that any situation that I went into, regardless of what that was, whatever the ensemble was or whatever, I knew where I was at all times, because I could rely on myself to be wherever I was on stage musically with whoever I was with, instead of pacing my dressing room floor because my accompanist is caught in a snow storm, or the bands plane is delayed and Im the only one out there.

In the beginning, for the first two years, I practiced a lot every single day. Always tape recording and listening to myself. For the first two years I didnt listen to a single singer, no matter what the discipline was, jazz, classical, whatever; I didnt want to listen to anyone because I am very impressionable. I was afraid if I kept looking towards a singer I would find someone I liked and would try and copy them and I would lose myself. So I thought the only to find myself is to shut myself off from all vocal influences and just sing and see what comes up. I knew what I wanted to do; I just didnt know what it sounded like yet. So I would sing for hours and hours everyday for years. Then I discovered this technique and developed some exercises. The challenge of it was staying in tune. Once I had a good idea of who I was, then I started branching out and listening to other singers. By then I was confident enough in myself that I was not afraid at that point that I was going to start mimicking someone elses sound.

And in another:

“I came up with this crazy idea just to walk out on the stage with no band at all and just start singing whatever came to mind,” says McFerrin. “I actually fought the idea for a while because it seemed almost too radical.”

“I like to think that our task as musicians is transcendence,” he says. “When you’re performing in front of people, you don’t want them to leave the same way they came in. You know, sometimes when you go to a concert, your heart is closed for one reason or another, you had a fight with your spouse, you just got fired from your job, one of your kids is sick, they cancelled your favorite TV show, who knows. So you’re dragged to this concert kicking and screaming, and then all of a sudden something happens, and you’re completely changed.”

Ave maria


Author: Robert Bettmann

Founder of Day Eight, and the DC Arts Writing Fellowship.