Musical Expression

What is the point of playing music unless it says something? Unless it moves and touches the listener in some way? The endless hours involved in learning the nuts and bolts of an instrument must lead to the performer creating and communicating a story, a feeling, or a mood for the listener. No matter if the performer is playing for only him/herself or for hundreds or thousands of people. No matter if the music is composed or improvised, in whatever genre it may be. In order for the music to work its magic, the performer must go beyond simply playing the notes correctly to letting the sounds take flight.

Sara Freed, who was one of my most influential piano teachers, lived and taught in Philadelphia, and used to write poems about various aspects of music. In 1964, she wrote these rhymed verses related to the musical expression:

I must make the mood of the music my own,
With all the awareness I have ever known.
The sadness of the lento, largo, and adagio,
The gladness of the rondo, allegro and scherzando.
Shouting, weeping, dancing in turn,
Developing discipline so demanding and stern.
My throat sings silently while fingers rise and fall,
The note is nothing unless the music is all

The timeless sentiments expressed in these words are worthy goals for all music students and performers to aspire to. Making those goals a reality in one’s music is one of the great challenges and joys of learning to play an instrument.