Watching the Olympics is inspiring. Watching athletes train extremely hard to be at their best physically and perform beautifully under lots of pressure and the world’s eyes watching is a wonderful thing to see. Musicians are quite similar to this. We spend hours and hours per day trying to play our instruments the best we can and build endurance in order to perform long, difficult programs. Many people have used this “athlete/musician” analogy before. And it is absolutely true. However, I am using this post to discuss diversifying our hobbies and becoming more active outside of the practice room.
Playing music requires lots of time to master, but there is more to life than sitting in a room all day learning new pieces or perfecting old ones. Doctors spend all of their time at hospitals and studying new medicines and diagnostic techniques, etc, but even their stereotype is that they are always on a golf course. After spending a day sitting and making music (though admittedly tiring), everyone must find an activity that releases energy throughout the body. Playing tennis, or any other racquet related sport, not only makes me feel better because I like doing it, but it always helps me release tension. And we all play much better with less tension. The key really is to find something you enjoy doing. It’s too difficult to force yourself to do something rather than want to do it.
But not only should your physical activity be diverse, but you should have a plethora of “musical activity” as well. I don’t just mean work on solos and chamber music (which to me is a must as well!), but listen to various types of music and ensembles as well. Guitarists, listen to symphonies, listen to operas, string quartets. We spend our whole day with the guitar. Listening to other pieces, instruments, and ensembles inspires and deepens our understanding of music and how it “should sound.” I remember working on Mauro Giuliani’s Grand Overture my junior year of undergrad. Once I had the piece in my fingers, my teacher gave me a homework assignment: listen to Rossini. Not listen to recordings of what others have done with the piece, or even other Giuliani works, but rather listen to other genres of music from the time period that resemble the character of the piece. Get that sound in my head so I can try figure out how to turn my guitar into a miniature Italian orchestra. I always feel as guitarists we are in our own world musically. And we are. We are very specialized, play a quiet instrument, and play an instrument many composers don’t know how to write for and stay away from. But that doesn’t mean listening to other instruments won’t help our own playing. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, earlier in July 2012, Pepe Romero gave me the same advice (as well as reading books and familiarizing myself with other art forms) in a private lesson I had with him, and he seems to be pretty good at playing and interpreting guitar music.
The world offers unlimited beauty in many forms, but you have to go outside occasionally to see it.