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Je me souviens

Je me souviens is the official motto of Quebec, the province of Canada where I’m from. It means "I remember".

Yes, we remember. We remember the past and its lessons, the past and its misfortunes, the past and its glories. - Thomas Chapais, Québec, 1895

A couple of years ago, I read an excellent text published on the excellent Bulletproof Musician blog and written by the horn player/teacher and fearless performance wizard Jeff Nelsen.

I bookmarked it, printed it, shared it on Facebook, and urged every student of mine to read it, as I’m now urging you! In his article, Prof. Nelsen shares bits of wisdom and emphasizes a point which I believe to be so important for students: the importance of writing notes in your music.

I write notes in my music. Lots of notes if necessary. Why? Simple logic: if you write it down, you’ll remember it. If you don’t, you won’t. (There are plenty of times when I don't write anything in my music, but that's a story for another day/post!)

I am baffled when I see students come in with blank parts! It is such a huge waste of time! Of course, there might be a point at which you might not need markings in your music (see above comment!) but, if you are still a music student, you still need markings! TRUST ME!

You pay a fair price for you lessons. Why let all the information slide out of your grasp by wrongly believing you will remember it all? Here are my two cents on the subject.

First, start by purchasing a good edition. Purchasing? Yes, you heard me: purchasing! Buying a score is like buying a dictionary: you need a reliable source. This is why you should always invest in a good edition for any standard repertoire you are working on. With the rise of free downloadable sources such as IMSLP, more and more students walk in my studio with piles of photocopies often riddled with mistakes. (My intolerance for loose sheets and unorganized music in lessons is well known among my students. Just don’t do it!) But we need to keep publishers in business, as they are the ones that invest money, time, energy, and resources in providing musicians with reputable and correct editions of the music they are performing.

It’s actually a great investment. Your marked parts will follow you all your life. They will prove to be extremely useful tools through your years of studying, performing, and teaching. Consider them to be wise, lifelong companions. I also strongly recommend using reputable editions. Cheap/free/ editions often contain many mistakes that can/will amount to considerable wastes of time, not only during your lessons, but also during your own practice sessions.

Now that you’ve got the music, what do you mark in it? Here are a few suggestions:

v Any/all suggestions from teachers, coaches, and colleagues (when in a chamber music setting)

v Fingerings

v Bowings

v Spacings and groupings (if you use this system)

v Tempi

v Rhythm

v Articulations

v Problematic alterations

v Dynamics

v “Notes to self”

v Cues from other parts

v Musical ideas

v Anything you want, honey!

My two most important points however, would be the followings:

v Put in what you need

v Erase what you don’t need

This is so, so very important! I see students wasting time while practicing or making mistakes in the middle of a performance, being either thrown off by the absence of a crucial marking or distracted by the presence of one that is incorrect. Please, please, pretty please, take the time to erase information that is wrong or no longer valid!

Nowadays, I often use two sets of parts. I have a reference part and a “working” part. The reference part is an original copy which is carefully marked with different bowings and fingerings I have used throughout the years, as well as teachers suggestions from lessons past. I enjoy revisiting those parts! Even though I might do a different fingering or have a different musical idea this time around, keeping other options in mind ensures that I take nothing for granted and remain inquisitive. Plus, reading notes from previous teachers always brings back good memories!

The working copy is the one I use in concert. It contains only the bowings, fingerings, and notes pertinent to the current performance. When I take it out for subsequent performance, I simply erase what I don’t use/need anymore (making sure I put it in my reference copy if it’s not already there) and add in the most recent information.

So… Ready? Set! Mark!

No need for other related articles. Read this one a few more times!

In the studio today: “Play music, don’t play bowings” “Working on bow technique is not like operating your Ron Popeil Rotisserie! You can’t just set it and forget it! You have to reset your intention at the beginning of each stroke until the proper movement becomes second nature.”

(Next time: The Growing Heap)


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