Monday, November 10, 2014

Service (Return to Orchestral Playing)

After ten days, a return to orchestral playing.  And how long has it been since I played a piece new to me?  After a long period of solitary practice I was suddenly in the middle of the orchestra, contending with my bow, my left hand, the notes on the page, the sounds of the winds and the brass and the basses and the violas next door, with a new person on the podium, with a new piece of music.  So much was happening!  And although I've grown as a cellist in my time away from HPAC last week, this reintroduction to the orchestra was eye-opening for what a skill it is to be an orchestral musician.  There is so much to balance, so many minute decisions to make very quickly, so much to register and to respond to.  To become a part of a machine, to blend in with it seamlessly.  I've been on my own for a few days and forgotten what skill that takes.

It is an act of serving to be a great orchestral musician.  To fit completely into what is asked of you; what the composer wants, what the conductor wants, what your section wants.

I'm reading a book by the great American author, John Steinbeck.  In it, he, or the narrator, exults the mind of the individual and claims that no great idea was ever created by more than one person.  Granted, he was admonishing the group mentality of war in his statement, but still, it struck me as quite a strong assertion.  As I sit in an orchestra in Japan, I have to wonder.  My voice is not mine while I play.  I'm not creating, I'm serving.  Perhaps we are creating a performance together, but still, there is a leader in our thoughts.  We must put ourselves aside, and some of the great gift that Steinbeck believed has been endowed to human beings, the ability to think creatively, is silenced.

But Steinbeck was an American writer.  He is likely to be disposed to a certain set of values.  And he also writes of a servant who speaks of the value of serving.  This character claims to be a great servant, but he is not an open servant.  He hides himself from his master, there is a part of him that is not fully serving.  Although he knows the art of it and the value it can have for oneself, I wonder if he serves the idea of serving as fully as one can.  But maybe one can never fully serve, perhaps no matter the intentions, one always retains a bit of themselves, of their individual humanity.  Even in Japan, where service and courtesy are so valued, individuality cannot be entirely broken.  To do so might be to achieve enlightenment.

These are thoughts without conclusions.  I have a passionate inclination to side with Steinbeck as I understand him.  I believe very sincerely in the unique energy that every person carries with them; and that they should be empowered to develop that energy as fully as possible.  And yet today, as I left HPAC, I saw our facilities manager on his way out of the building, bow to the theater shrine which sits in an alcove in the wall.  He bowed several times, clapped his hands; it was a formal and sincere gesture made by a man who enters and exits the HPAC building many, many times.  What is it to serve something?  To serve oneself?  To serve a person or an ideal?  What does that mean?

I don't know.  To serve, to create, to follow, to lead.  These are ideas without conclusions.  Only a reflection on the many ways to make music, the many values a culture can have, the many ways one can live.

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