Objective listening

by Jan 1, 2018

Over my years as a violinist, I have come to the conclusion that the most powerful way to develop my playing is to pay extraordinary attention to both the intention: what I intend to hear as I play, and the actual: what I actually hear as I play.

These may seem to be the same thing, but the creative power is in the acknowledgment and awareness of how these two realities differ.

The intention is generated in the realm of the imagination. The actual is generated in the realm of the physical.

The intention is where the creative potential begins, and the actual is where it is realised.

The intention anticipates, and the actual responds.

A key to playing to your creative potential is for these two realms to be identical aural pictures of each other – in total alignment. When this is achieved, your ear is finely tuned to both your imagination and the sound you are producing, and you are in total control in the creative moment of performance.

Objective listening is paramount to this successful alignment. Being able to objectively observe the differences between these two realms allows an opportunity for objective decisions regarding what needs to be heard differently. If you can fully harness this awareness, you can improve and develop your playing very quickly.

Consider this: I find it helpful to assume that what I ‘actually played’ is what I ‘actually intended’.

It is easy to be deluded in terms of how we are actually playing, and often we believe we are playing better than we are. I find the best confirmation of what we are hearing in our imagination is what we actually play.

Furthermore, it is when we really notice the detail of what we are imagining (or lack of detail) that we can start to really craft what we want to be listening for – and this is where the power lies.

Put simply, if you don’t like what you are hearing when you play, and want something different, you have to change what you are listening for and consequently hear what you want to play.

“If you can hear it, you can produce it”, is a powerful and creative paradigm to work within. If you want it to sound different, you have to hear it differently, and hear it precisely the way you want it to be.

Take ownership and responsibility for what you are hearing, and keep refining until you know exactly what you want to hear, and until you play it that way.

Albert Einstein is broadly credited as saying “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. If you want to play differently, you need to change what you are listening for.

It requires great imagination to create what you want to hear – and this is where the fine tuning comes in. To get total clarity about all the aspects of the sound you want to create – character, colour, texture, timbre, pitch…the list is quite endless – you must always be refining the picture of the sound in your imagination.

Silver linings the second time around

Having performed the complete cycle of Beethoven’s violin sonatas in February 2020 with American pianist Kate Boyd, we had originally planned to perform the cycle again later that year. But of course, COVID had other plans for us and the soonest that we could rearrange for our second cycle was for 10-17 January 2023 – almost 3 years later.

With the first of these concerts now just a day away, I’ve been reflecting on the new opportunities that presented themselves because of the enforced ‘change of plans’, and the silver linings have been numerous and rather wonderful.

Building Confidence

Radio New Zealang Concert asked me for advice around confidence, and in particular if it can be built.

I believe it can.

You can read what I had to say about it all on their website: Confidence Tricks – some tips for musical performance.

Effort, Age and Survival  

It is over a month since my last blog post and with the 6 weeks that have passed, we are well and truly in mid-summer here in Central Otago.

I have been systematically working through the 10 Beethoven violin sonatas, regularly inspired by the awesome landscapes outside my window, and accompanied by my trusty sidekick – Coco the cat.

It turns out one of the biggest current challenges is physical fatigue.

A reset from the inside out

Having previously performed 6 of the 10 Beethoven violin sonatas more than 20 years ago, it has been a lovely process coming back to the familiar, as well as discovering the new. Primarily due to the work I have been doing over the last 2 years getting to the nitty-gritty of my performance philosophies, these incredibly pristine works of Beethoven are proving to be an absolute gift for me.

Where to from here?

The next three months are super exciting for me, with 3 concerts confirmed in Mid-Feb 2020 for the performance of all 10 Beethoven sonatas within three days…and all in my new gorgeous neighbourhood of Central Otago.

It’s quite possible that I am naïve to the full enormity of this project – but one thing is for sure, sinking my teeth into these works again is a true treat, and the magnitude of the project is just what I am now needing at this point in my life.

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