Do you remember a specific image in your history that made you want to play guitar, and later you would return to when you needed inspiration? Here's mine.
Yes, I was, and continue to be a Julian Bream fanatic, and this was the album (LP for us old folks) that made me fall in love with the classical guitar. As an eight year old boy, sitting on my parent's orange/yellow shag rug, the sun would shine brightly through our living room window, and, as it was Canada, the sun would set low enough in the sky to beam directly through with such intensity that the dust particles in the air could always be seen. From the poetry and enormous sound of "Dedicatoria" to the miraculous performance of "Valses Poeticos" (which, to my ears has never been equalled by guitarist or pianist), I would listen in awe and stare at this distinguished man who had the coolest looking fretboard I had ever seen. This album continues to be my favourite, the starting point for any rejuvenation of musical spirit that I may need, and the visual of the cover will always stay with me.
I have a mental picture that I refer to also. No photo exists, but its burned in my memory. Andres Segovia, without a guitar. (Try finding a picture on-line of Segovia without a guitar...slim-pickings)
Toronto, Massey Hall, 1984 (I think): A pre-teen Dr. Steve and his twin brother are brought to an Andres Segovia concert at one of North America's great concert halls. We had first row seats. My parents told us that we had to be very quiet, cause if we coughed, the Maestro would stop and stare at us, so...yeah...we were too terrified to breathe, which is probably why I remember very little of the concert, except that the Maestro was a giant, and his guitar produced enormous sounds. And I remember I was amazed.
After the concert, as we were about to leave, the great guitar teacher, Eli Kassner, come up to my parents and told us we could go backstage to meet Segovia. Maestro Kassner had an eye on my brother and I and was about to accept us into his class. So,Dad, Eli, my brother and I found the greeting area. We went to the door and the steward called "Only two more". Eli and my father shoved us into the room and watched us approach the great man. We were scared of sitting in the hall to watch him play, now we were face to face with the legend, and probably about to cry from fear that we would cough or he would hate our long hair. We got in front of the Maestro, who was sitting behind a table to sign autographs. He signed our programs (which I still have in my parent's house...Mom, Dad, if you are reading this, please mail it to me). He then looked down at these two ragamuffins who hated to trim their curly locks. I then heard my Dad yell "Shake his hand!!!" I don't think we ever had the chance to shake someone's hand before. We'd seen it done, but this is what adults do. So, Segovia was looking at us curiously, and we felt the pressure to become adults and artists and real members of society. So the two very left-handed children extended our left hand to Segovia (to be fair, we had no idea that you were supposed to use our right hands...except for our father then yelling "Come on, guys...your right hand....sheesh!!") At the same time, the Maestro extended his right hand and they collided. Uh-oh...we thought, he must think us rude little gutter-rats...never having to exchange social pleasantries. But..in a moment that is burned in my head forever, he looked at us quizzically, chuckled to himself, patted us on the head, and extended his left hand to deliver what were probably the only two left-handed handshakes he ever produced. I was really fortunate to have this moment, and I treasured my special rapport (well...romanticized rapport) with Segovia the rest of my life. Eli Kassner often would joke for years afterwards the we had been touched by God, unfortunately with the wrong hand.
With these two powerful images burned in my conscience, it is always in my mind that I have the influence of these artists always with me. I talked in the last post about influences from recording and how that affects interpretation. The other influence I struggle with is when I pick up a score that has been edited by Segovia or Bream, my heroes, and they have told me how to finger the piece. If I change their markings, were my heroes wrong, or am I too obtuse and unskilled to get it?
Well, neither. After consideration over the years, I have come to an objective way of rationalizing fingerings that come with an edited edition, and I'd like to share some of these with you. I most recently encountered this crisis while preparing the "Gently Rocking" movement for Britten's "Nocturnal", which, of course, is edited and fingered by Bream. I then expanded my thoughts on fingering using other examples from the "Nocturnal" and other repertoire I have been working on with my students.
An Objective View on Published Fingerings
Students often think that the fingerings they see before them on the music are akin to law. One must remember that the MUSIC is the governing principle of...well...music, and making good music is the law. Please note that my comments here refer to people who are working on concert repertoire. Pieces assigned for pedagogical purposes by a teacher often have reasons behind the fingerings. If one looks at a method book, or a pedagogical repertoire series, an editor often puts fingerings to encourage his/her pedagogical standpoint on technique and perhaps phrasing. What I will be discussing is my approach to performance material, keeping in mind that the goal of performing is communication of the music and the underlying elements contained within. I have grouped my approach in two major categories, each with subsections for left hand and the right hand. Please bear in mind that this is not a methodical checklist, and often times, one will find instances of examples which can fit into more than one category.
Fingerings That Facilitate the Learning of Music (Technical Learning)
The title is self explanatory. The majority of fingerings I come across serve as a way to help people learn the music. I always remind my students that the danger in this is learning the fingerings, but not the notes. In facilitating the learning of the music, a lot of time can be saved finding the notes. I have found, however, that this benefit only lasts for the first 4 or 5 days with a passage in front of me. After this, I tend to have assimilated the information.
The Left Hand
1) The Absolute Positively Only Way to Do Something (probably...)
2) Fingerings that will help you learn the piece
1) The Absolute Positively Only Way to Do Something (probably...)
There are not a lot of instances of this, but it usually happens with big, thick chords. The fingerings provided will help the student cut down the time it takes to decipher these chords technically, and are therefore very useful. This example is from the Passacaglia from Britten's "Nocturnal" (I wrote it in one staff for convenience)
Assessment: Objective fingering. Use of the fingering does not reveal another's influence or interpretation.
2) Fingerings that help you learn the piece
These types of Left Hand fingerings are perhaps the most common. Most of the time, they offer the most technically expedient way of executing a passage. We should not make the mistake that this is the only way to do it (despite the fact that Bream or Segovia did it this way), and they are worth learning and absorbing. Alternate solutions should be found if the provided fingering is too awkward for your personal technique or your interpretation doesn't work with it. An example of this can be found in the Restless movement of the "Nocturnal"
Assessment: Subjective, reveals some of the editors approach to technique. Try it out first, but feel free to search out alternatives based upon personal technical and musical concerns.
The Right Hand
Very rarely, if ever, have I encountered The Absolute Positively Only Way to Do Something (probably...) in the right hand. In fact, I have found that most right hand fingerings tell more about the editors technical preferences for the right hand than a search for the easiest solution. One thing I've learned over years of teaching and observing, is that there is (almost) as many ways to acheive something with the right hand as there are players. Some people have strict "systems" (a-finger string crossing, only i-m alternation, etc) but most utilize a hybrid of these systems. The goal of your right hand fingering should be one that facilitates the passage AND gives it the right musical effect, and NOT just because Bream, Segovia, etc. did it. I always check out the fingerings, but I tend to not give them as much weight as the left hand ones. Here's the example from Gently Rocking which encouraged me to formulate these thoughts:
After beating myself up for a while, I paused to figure why I couldn't do it, and here it is: at the execution of 3rd and 4th beats in the lower staff, the alternation from the previous note entailed a switch from m to a-i. Many methods will tell you that the m to a-i alternation is a hard one, and it always has been not as comfortable to me. Then I asked myself, could Bream's solution be musically integral to the piece. The answer is no. The figure is a tremolando G with an E minor arpeggio ringing around it....that's it...that's what the music is. The fingering displays more about Julian Bream's technical approach than the music (and what I learned in many of his fingerings is that he is VERY good at alternating a-i with m, and, for that, I once again bow to the master....). I then set about a way to bring about the same musical effect, but with a new fingering, now emboldened by my independence. I came up with two solutions.
Assessment:Almost entirely subjective to the editor's right hand technical preferences. Approach cautiously with an eye on your strengths.
Post script to Part 1
I always say to my students who are preparing for performances, "Don't be a hero!!" By this I mean, do not dogmatically follow a technical point of view that is simply not working for you if you possess an alternative that sounds equally well in your interpretation. Never think you SHOULD do something technically awkward if you can avoid it. The final product is a moment in time which has to be aesthetically pleasing and musically substantive. I have yet for someone to come up to me after a performance and say "In bar 16, you played those 3 notes m, i, p and not a, m, i...therefore you ruined the night for me and I may stop eating due to how distraught I am". If what you do has the right musical effect, no one will ever catch it or call you on it. My promise to you....
In Part 2, I will discuss the second types of fingerings, those having to do with phrasing, and will put forth a summary of these articles. Keep practicing and stay tuned.....