My wife and I bought a house almost a year ago, a home we absolutely love. It’s old, well maintained and full of character. We were ‘sold’ as soon as we saw it. One misgiving we had was the backyard-the garden area was very over grown with tall weeds, and piles of yard waste. So my Dad came out one weekend to help me clean it up. We forgot to take a ‘before’ picture, but here’s an ‘after’ picture of our beautification project:
I share this image because I think it is decidedly NOT beautiful! Grass has been torn up, we collected piles of wood, tomato plant cages, the garden boxes were rotting and falling apart, we found out our fence was not as steady as we’d thought, and the “garden” is still weedy and needs some good working-through before it will grow our preferred vegetation properly.
But it IS much more beautiful than it was. I think this is a great analogy for my general practicing philosophy. I’d bet many of my students don’t take to my practice suggestions easily, and I can see why. I often ask them to distort what is on the page. Whether it’s practicing in rhythms, blocking, changing dynamics or articulation, the fact remains: We have to make something ugly before it’s going to sound beautiful.
I’ve also used the analogy with my students of baking a cake. Batter is not the same thing as cake, its texture is off, the taste is not quite right; but we know that batter can become cake. We mix ingredients together but still have to bake it. We can never start with just cake.
In my practice philosophy, practicing is mixing notes, articulations, phrasing, dynamics and rubato together using different practice techniques to create something akin to batter. Our cognitive processes then bakes it to create something tasty for our ears.
Here’s a video of me learning a new piece: the Prelude in Bb major from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1. The first time around I utilize two techniques to reinforce the notes:
"Modern performers seem to regard their performances as texts rather than acts, and to prepare for them with the same goal as present-day textual editors: to clear away accretions. Not that this is not a laudable and necessary step; but what is an ultimate step for an editor should be only a first step for a performer, as the very temporal relationship between the functions of editing and performing already suggests." -Richard Taruskin, Text and Act