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Oboe d'Amore specialist JENNIFER PAULL
reflects on education, linguistics and the muse


<< Continued from two weeks ago

When I read that music theory and language grammar are both lodged in the same part of the brain, I devised a plan for teaching French through music and music through French. I called this 'Musical Linguistics'. The links between performance and speech, musical theory and grammatical construction were just crying out, so I felt, for a hands-on musical approach. Music fulfils the criteria for the classification as a language. Controlling the learning of two subject matters together should therefore be no more difficult than raising a child to be bilingual.

I would like to thank the Johnson School of the Arts in Cedar Rapids, for the willingness and enthusiasm I was shown. This allowed me to realise my research in their establishment. Dr Susan Lagos, the Principal, and Damon Cole, the Fine Arts Facilitator did everything they could to give me free rein in their Community School, which follows the Reggio Emilia teaching philosophy. This approach shares much with that of Rudolph Steiner whose pedagogy is such a constructive mixture of practical arts and appreciation of all of a child's gifts. As Artist-in-Residence, I was able to work on all of these ideas, and planted a love of French and music in a very willing audience. This was part of my work as Chair of Special Studies for the Symphony School of Music in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Playing an instrument such as the oboe or bassoon as I do, one's initial focus at university or conservatoire was inevitably the brace of chairs available in the Western symphony orchestra. I fear that today, music is taught like an Olympic Sport. So few people dare to play some of the most beautiful baroque concerti because they are 'not virtuoso enough'. To create the perfect Note Engineer, who plays faster, higher, more notes per square inch/centimetre, appears to be the direction of the apprenticeship of many. The beauty of the melodic line has so often been relegated to the status of a souvenir of times past. The production of the competitive musician, a noble stallion bred for the race, is the aim of many, happily not all, of today's music teaching. 'How else can one survive the cattle market of the audition and competition circuit?' This unanswered question reverberates around the halls of many a School of Music. Training the nerves instead of learning about the magic of musicianship appears to be the present fashion in far too many cases, everywhere. Competitiveness is encouraged as a vital artistic ingredient. Olympia is omnipresent.

Music is so much more than the symphony orchestra. After all, someone chose the music that is performed, engaged the soloist, published the work, composed and commissioned it, promoted and recorded it, advertised the event, and engaged the conductor. Someone co-ordinated with the radio or TV producers and sponsors, and held a larger vision of the whole than either performer or listener could. All these other professions which bring music to the consumer to woo his ear and enrich his life, are as important as the drawing of a string across a bow or the scraping of a reed. Instruments are designed, manufactured, exported and retailed. Their accessories and individual repertoires alone are the work of many. Music is a universe. Being involved in it in any one branch in any one capacity is simply a drop in any one ocean.

Music, the joy, the treasure, the inspiration, the divine, and the profane, will forever be open to all those who can listen to its many levels and drink from each individual inspirational cup. The place of the musician in this entire puzzle is to be eclectic rather than Olympic. Of course, the trained, professional performer can play a concerto, sit in an orchestra, accompany a ballet, or play in the pit for the performance of an opera. He can also soothe the crying child with the 'Mozart effect', and inspire the non-reader to an awakening. Communicating with his gift of music, he can install the gift of communication itself. These variations in, and deviations from his original path; the seeking out and finding of other genres; should in no way be viewed as less important in the overall scheme of not only his life, but the lives of the others he touches with his talent. Multi-uses of music are the foundation stones of the pyramid of which performing was initially undoubtedly considered the pinnacle of personal achievement. Horizons can broaden. Personally, I think that they should be encouraged to diversify. This enriches every plane and facet of an individual's artistic merit and growth process. After all, do frogs deserve to corner the multiple benefits of metamorphosis?

Our Art can accomplish so much. Being a performer is a wonderful gift, but in the end, it is still only one piece in the puzzle. I suppose I am advocating a wider, more flexible approach to everything we do with and for our Art.

We haven't even begun to see what we can give back to music in exchange for that which music gives to us!

Copyright © 10 July 2001 Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland







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