Speaking of Sarabandes

For those of us who thought Pachelbel was a one-trick pony, I am happy to report that his own sarabandes, one in F# minor and the other in B flat major, are very much worthy of the man who wrote that famous canon. And they are both well within the capabilities of a novice like myself. Although that brings me to another question: Is it easier to play something like these sarabandes than it is to play something more difficult, something requiring a great deal more technical expertise? By “play,” of course, I mean perform it well, not just technically but emotively.

Several years back I had a brief stint as a music critic for a local publication. It was an education for me. I covered a concert at a local conservatory that included one of the Brandenburg concertos and something slow by Tchaikovsky (sorry I can’t be more specific). They played the Brandenburg quite adequately, but the Tchaikovsky was embarrassing. It struck me then that there can be a much greater challenge to performing something simple and “easy to play” than there is to pulling off something that requires more technical proficiency but more or less carries itself along.

I’m facing the same difficulty with these sarabandes. Once you have gotten the execution down, you are faced with something much bigger and much more daunting, and that’s where the performer is challenged to reach down and find something in his/herself to match the greatness of the music. It’s very humbling, actually. But, also very rewarding when you feel that you have at least come up with something halfway worthy of the notes on the page.

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3 Comments to “Speaking of Sarabandes”

  1. I’m not a musician, but I know the writing equivalent and suspect it transfers across the arts. Being in what my older son, the violinist, calls “the space” has to do with motive, I think–you find yourself there when you want to honor the material you’re working with and have thus forgotten about whatever investment you have in terms of ego (so yes to the humbleness factor, which I suspect precedes the humbling result). When the motive is really about honoring the music, you tend to forget yourself and climb inside the piece, or–with writing–to close your eyes to see truly whatever glistening reality that’s moved you to try to capture it in a net of words.

    Sometimes the space is infectious, too. I remember when my son was going through a period of frustrating practice–hampered, I see now, by a judgmental, perfectionist teacher–it happened that Joshua Bell came through town and we went to see him perform. This was a dozen years or more ago now, and Bell was still pretty young. I know my son admired him, and maybe also identified with him more than, say, Perlman. My son came home from that concert as if he’d had some kind of vision, picked up his violin, and began to play in a whole new way. He said he just saw something in Bell’s attitude that set him free.

    No matter what the endeavor, those times are what we live for, no?

  2. Indeed. As a writer, I also find that moment happens just as unexpectedly. Some of my best fiction has been written on days when the idea of putting pencil to paper was downright revolting. In a similar way, something takes over my music sometimes and I wonder, Where did that come from? That’s what’s so important about the arts, isn’t it, whether as creator or audience–the way they reach us on the level we don’t even know we are living, that subconscious you write about.

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