Emotional Playing

Emotional Playing

I hear a lot that it’s important for singers to connect with their lyrics and I know it’s probably important for instrument players to connect to their songs as well. Even silly tunes I suppose. So, how do you connect to the music you play? Which tunes touch you deeply? And does an emotional connection make a difference in your playing, in your opinion?

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This is a very good subject for discussion, Olivia. There are a lot of really good musicians who are very young, age 4 -14 yrs. old, but very few of them play with real emotion. That’s because I really believe that emotion comes from life experience. It comes with age. At age 16, you are probably beginning to notice this with your own music. You are developing your life experiences and those experiences are expressed through your music. That’s how it works. Listening to music also helps develop emotion. Although I’ll probably get a lot of flack for saying this, don’t limit your listening to ITM. Music, in and of itself, is filled with passion, beauty, sadness, even laughter. Hear it, all kinds of music, and soon you’ll learn to play your music with feeling.

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Music isn’t just learning notes and playing them, You learn notes to play to the music of your soul.
-Katie Greenwood

You can learn a lot from the blues (which I grew up on). Know the tunes, love them, and play with your soul.

I do agree with Marcia that sometimes experience helps to be more soulful, and listen to other music. Tunes have personality on their own. Hone in on them, whether they are happy, sad, or even angry. Even though I am personifying tunes, they are still a piece of artwork written by someone inspired by something and embedded with the artist’s emotions.

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Back when I first started playing mandolin in high school, I didn’t know a whole lot. When my girlfriend at the time broke up with me, I was learning about the blues on the mandolin and learning the scales that you could make. I spent all my lunch periods playing after I ate, and the music helped me get through, it seemed to reach out and say "Hey, you’re all-right, you’ll get through this"
Several months later, a new mandolin in hand and a few tunes shy of a dozen memorized, music has helped me and given me so much back. I try to put back as much emotion as I can into my music because of that.
I mean, Irish music is just so much fun to play, hard to remain said when you’re playing a set of reels, jigs or slipjigs. Some of the airs can sound a bit sad, but sad things happen sometimes, and there’s always more happy tunes around the corner 🙂

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"So, how do you connect to the music you play? Which tunes touch you deeply? And does an emotional connection make a difference in your playing, in your opinion?"

My personal music has mainly revolved around one thing, and that is aestetics. Things that I think are beautiful are inspiring and provocative to me. So I try to connect the music with a theme that I can express, or "project". If I can’t make a thematic connection, i’m at a loss. Fortunately, finding thematic connections isn’t difficult because a theme could be vague and ambiguous or clear and definite.

Songs are easier since they have lyrics. If I have experienced what the song is about, or the meaning connects with one of my fears or desires, I feel a lot more in touch with the music. This shows in the style I choose to sing it.

An example of this is how I sing "Down by the Sally Gardens", the story of a young man that foolishly rejected the love of a dear lass. I think about how I don’t want to experience the same tragedy, and to keep an open heart just in case love ever wanders close. Not only that, but it’s also the song that introduced me to Irish music. So I sing this song differently than anything else. If I can’t relate to the song, I won’t connect as well.

With tunes, I first try to find a theme in the title. I know that titles can’t always tell you where the tune came from, or what inspired it, but there is often a tangible idea in a tune title and in that idea is where I base how i’ll play a tune.

An example of this is my favorite jig "Lark in the Morning". I think about the story of the competition, and imagine the beautiful bird song that inspired this tune. Then I try to create the affect of a bird singing when I play the tune.

If I can’t find a clear and definite theme in the title, I find a vague theme in the melody and try to create a larger idea around. Happy, dark, laid-back, aggresive, victorious, etc. Then I play that theme.

For Irish tunes, my emotions aren’t very involved until I start reminiscing about the good times I’ve had at sessions and concerts with my friends. Playing tunes is more of an emotional disconnect for me. Though, I tend to gravitate more towards the brighter, jubilous tunes. There are some darker tunes that set me on fire. But my own compositions are emotionally charged and driven. You can hear this in the way I play my pieces.

So yes, I think our emotional and other mental connections to tunes can affect how we play them.

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Got any links to any of those compositions, Jerone?
Music is a really powerful thing. Since I’ve started playing, I feel a lot more confident in myself and am not as shy as I used to be.
Down by the Sally Gardens was the song that got me into Irish music too, woot 🙂

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"There are a lot of really good musicians who are very young, age 4 -14 yrs. old, but very few of them play with real emotion. That’s because I really believe that emotion comes from life experience."

That’s what I used to think. I shifted opinion after hearing Donnie Deacon play at the age of around 12 - then we gave Stephanie and Nicola Benedetti a "floor spot" at one of our gigs - they were aged around 16 and 12, respectively (Nicola probably showing more emotion in her playing). Ok, by the age of 12, Donnie probably had enough life experience of the wrong kind, but the Benedetti sisters had a very comfortable lifestyle in "West Kilshuggle". I realised that it was more to do with technique than life experience. Being able to convey emotion. After all, a baby is expressing enough emotion to bring a parent to his/her side when he/she cries. It doesn’t have to be melancholia expressed in the music. If you can make the instrument weep and laugh (things that babies do) then that is expressing emotion. It’s not just technique though. There is the ability to express that emotion in front of others. Even with relatively poor technique, being able to show emotion in public is important - and more babies are likely to cry in public than adolescents!
More than a "very few" are able to play with that emotion from quite an early age, but it is not really an adult "life experience" that is being conveyed. Just the ability to convey. To bring out that ability doesn’t involve giving a pupil "life experience", but rather technique.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZjFYjr7S5c


Of course, this young player might well convey much more substance as she matures. However, the ability she has here is giving her a head start.
Incidentally, Nicola Benedetti apparently cried her way through her first violin lesson - not on the instrument though.

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There are too many examples of people singing sad or emotionally charged songs while smiling at the camera as if to say ‘look at me aren’t I clever’. Without exception, the songs fail.
Compare a young child reading out loud to a professional actor (maybe not such a good analogy 🙂 ) in a film saying the same lines — the words might be the same, but there is no comparison as to content.
The way we think about the music — songs or tunes, happy or sad, angry or peaceful — not only has an affect on how we play them: I would say it is imperative. It is a huge part of what music is, of the language, the projection and communication of information.
Milk every note for all you can get. Pour your heart and soul into it. There is so little carry the message, each note must be loaded to the maximum if you want to get the message across. Fortunately in the case of music you don’t run the risk of overdoing it, as you do with speaking or singing or acting — it is relatively easy to spot if someone is lying, and hammy acting is to be avoided; but with music, and to a lesser extent singing, I say pile it on.
A friend of mine once a year plays and sings ‘The Green Fields of France’ at an annual gathering of ex-soldiers. He tells me there is hardly ever a dry eye in the room, and he often struggles to get through it himself.
The song was written by Eric Bogle, on holiday in France, after he saw the rows and rows of unnamed white crosses — a fact not unknown to the singer.
If you haven’t heard it, it’s here
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntt3wy-L8Ok


Compare that to this emotionless, if endearing, song concerning a gas-mask from a two-year-old.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPm2oprQb3U

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Just to endorse what Weejie says above — a young child knows all too well the agony of losing a favourite toy or doll, the misery of seeing a dead animal, the joy of a birthday present. It is getting these emotions into the music that is necessary, and it is hard if not impossible to convey one while thinking of another. Perhaps it is impossible to think of one while playing another also, just as it is hard to smile and feel miserable, or frown and be happy.

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Good example, Gam - "The Green Fields of France", and Eric’s other epic "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda". Very moving words, but so much overdone that many people cringe when those songs are performed (Crawford Howard’s parody tells the tale). I’ve heard more emotion from a child who has lost her favourite toy than a lot of "mature" singers rendering Bogle’s songs.

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My wife also does Green Fields of France once a year (maybe twice if she gets a request for it at the folk weekend we go to in April/May). She only sings songs she truly ‘gets’. She never does a song where she doesn’t agree with the lyrics and when she learns a song she makes an effort to get into the thinking of the writer/performer/message being conveyed.

I also employ this approach with tunes. I try to get into what the tune is about, how it makes me feel, what images it brings to mind etc and I draw on these when I perform them.

I do a particular Scottish tune and really try to play it with a specific pulse by having an image in my mind of a huge band of pipes and drums marching through the streets.

I played The Slockit Light a lot when I had a recent family bereavement and try to remember that whenever I play it.

Inisheer reminds me of playing the tune one morning when at a folk festival in the Lake District, the scene was peaceful, serene, calm etc as most people were still asleep in their tents and I draw on that imagery.

My favourite at the moment is the Bear Dance (polka) which has such a strong Russian flavour to it in my mind and so I picture cossack (sp?) dancers in my mind and try to play certain notes with a specific flair/flourish to them.

Great subject for discussion by the way - I wonder what others have in mind when playing certain tunes…

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I’ll always remember an occasion at Celtic Connections. A Dutch guy from Easter Ross was playing a slide guitar (very well) and the late Mick Broderick was slumped over a table, in the audience. The guy started playing Amazing Grace, and suddenly, from Mick, who seemed dead to the world, came this eerie wailing sound, singing along to the music. To me, this is how the song was meant to be. Never mind operatic tenors or sopranos, here was a "lost soul" letting rip. I did my best to stop the security staff throwing Mick out - who was just another drunk to them. I’ll probably never hear that sound again.

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Since the dirty glass is always half empty, chipped around the bottom and sitting on the edge of the table ready to fall off and shatter into a million pieces I like tunes in minor keys/Dorian mode etc. I also like very fast energetic tunes or slow sad airs.

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Hi all,
I’ve, personally, always found music and emotion to be very closely linked. As a listener, music can influence my mood. As a player, I believe the music I play is more enjoyable for both me and the listener if I put the appropriate emotion into it, like an actor. When I play laments I try to feel the sadness the composer felt and let that come through in my playing. When I play jigs, I call upon my happy and whimsical experiences and try to channel them through my whistle.

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Thanks, guys, this is some great stuff. I didn’t really put my own opinion and thoughts into my original post, so that’s what I shall now do:
I think emotions in music playing is just as important as sunlight is to the earth. To be able to connect to what your playing or hearing is a beautiful thing and music is all the prettier for it.
If there is no lyrics to a particular tune, I also try to find some meaning in the title of the tune. I am a romanticist, so imagining and feeling emotion is not a difficult thing for me. I only know nine tunes at the moment, but the one I love to play the most is "The Butterfly". I can’t really put words to what I think as I play it, but it’s something like the image of the last butterfly of summer flying around looking for a flower or a fellow butterfly, but things are dying and he’s all alone…..

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Olivia - you are touching on the difference between music with words and music with no words. I teach my students that words are always more important than music in a song - the music is merely a vehicle for the poetry. As to tunes - I don’t want to discourage you from your imagination, and I very much enjoy your image of that poor butterfly - just be aware that most of the time dance tunes are thought of as ‘absolute music’ - that is, music for its own sake, or the dancers’, not music that tells a story or describes something - and you shouldn’t be discouraged if you can’t always think of a deep inner meaning for a tune.

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I agree, one of the tunes I can’t seem to emotionally connect with is "Britches Full of Stitches" …

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Jimmy Noonan once gave me the best lesson for every musician of any genre when he said "it’s not enough to play the notes, you have to play them in relation to each other". From that time on I’ve tried, and only sometimes successfully, to let the feeling of the tune come out.

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"It’s not enough to play the notes, you have to play them in relation to each other."

Taken on its own, this statement is a strong contender for my Truism of the Month award. (The mind boggles at the alternative.)

But no doubt yer man was making a valid point in the context when the statement was uttered. And if it has helped you let the feeling of tunes come out, great. Because I think that is the crux of the matter (rather than trying to put feeling _into_ tunes, which can fail to work spectacularly).

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I think worrying about whether or not you can emotionally connect to a particular tune or come up with some story about it is putting far too much energy and thought into something that demands neither. If you like it, learn it. If not, don’t.

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Some thoughts on playing with feeling ….

Music is a form of communication, and one important mode is to take the feelings of the performer, embed them in the music, and create a feeling in the listener. It is possible in some forms to go back even further to the feelings of the composer, interpreted by the performer, embedded in the music, and recreated in the listener.

There are many steps in this process, each of them fraught with challenges. In this age, perhaps more so than in the past, it is not common that performers are willing to put their feelings ‘on display’ in their performances. It puts a person in a vulnerable place that is uncomfortable for most people. Faking it is easy enough, simulating feelings rather than conveying what you actually feel. Such fakery is usually apparent in the music, and doesn’t as readily produce the effect in the listener. Honesty helps.

Finding that connection between your playing and your feelings is not a simple process, and requires practice. The difficulty is compounded by the method people usually use to practice their art, which is to practice without feeling. When learning and practicing, if all the attention is paid to the detailed mechanics of producing sounds, you leave the ‘feeling connection’ aspect behind. In fact, such practice is actually a way to learn to play ‘without feeling’.

Irish traditional music is a remarkably simple form. The melodies are simple. The harmonies are trivial. The rhythms are limited. But it is the simplicity of the form that makes it so amazingly expressive. There is tremendous room for expression within the form — and the music can hold a full range of emotions and feelings and experiences. It is a wonderful canvas on which very subtle nuances can be conveyed. The Irish experience is full of tragedy and melancholy, but also pride and happiness and love. Such is true for most traditions, but certainly they are there in Irish music and in the performers of the music.

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"It’s not enough to play the notes, you have to play them in relation to each other."

Music is all about relationships. Relationships between notes, relationships between harmonies, relationships between instruments, relationships between the singer and others… all about relationships.

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"Irish traditional music is a remarkably simple form. The melodies are simple. The harmonies are trivial. The rhythms are limited. But it is the simplicity of the form that makes it so amazingly expressive. There is tremendous room for expression within the form — and the music can hold a full range of emotions and feelings and experiences. It is a wonderful canvas on which very subtle nuances can be conveyed. The Irish experience is full of tragedy and melancholy, but also pride and happiness and love. Such is true for most traditions, but certainly they are there in Irish music and in the performers of the music."

I love all that you said here, Fiddler3. It rings true 🙂

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I used to DJ.

I used to DJ and was lucky enough to use phenomenal sound systems now and again - even a tremendous homemade Dub stack that could kill a nursing home.

The drama and power of feeling the music to that level where it literally challenges the immune system - I think of trad tunes on that level. I think of where the real crack of the tune is, the bangs, the suspenseful pauses and the mindful tingle of a stripped down breakdown.

I also feel like Irish tunes, more than Scottish, feel like flying.

Scottish feel like doing a really precise dance or driving a souped up super car.

Fast ones of course.

I just think of crying when I play slow tunes - cos I’m a tight lipped West Coast Tuechter. They usually get a good response.

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Playing with emotion takes both deep feeling and technical ability. There are cases where someone with limited ability can convey emotion well, and conversely cases when those with technical ability play woodenly without emotion. But both of those cases are rare exceptions.
As folks have said above, almost all of us are born capable of deep feelings. So, the barrier to conveying emotion through playing is generally technical ability.
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, man, practice…

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My question is, if I lost touch with my emotions, how would it affect my music? I’ve been given a very hard time for being an emotionally sensitive male, and people just don’t understand how much I depend on my emotions to induce the inspiration it takes to create artwork that i’m proud of.

I’ve often wanted to just do away with them. Just say, "Ha, screw emotions. I’m a man, I don’t have to put up with this. *Click*". But right before that click, my conscious goes, "Wait! What about your music!? Your poetry!? Don’t do it man. Don’t do it."

The music is obviously here to stay. As for the emotions, I have to admit… I’ve tried, religiously, to find a way to bypass them and still create something decently provocative. I still haven’t found a solution. I doubt I ever will.

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Jerone — emotions are not the problem, they are the solution.

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Emotions are good; they keep you from being a dull brick of a human being. Can you imagine going through life without empathy, sympathy, compassion, or love? And Jesus said that love is the most important thing, so He clearly thinks that emotion is good. And music can be so heartbreakingly beautiful if the musician can *feel* what he or she is playing.

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I often record myself when I’m playing at home. Sometimes I am thinking intensely about the music itself. Sometimes I am enjoying the associations the music has for me: Irish music often makes me think about wild landscapes. Some tunes (often hornpipes for some reason) make me think about sex. And sometimes when I’m playing I’m thinking about a conversation I had earlier in the day, or a job I’m working on.

When I listen to the recordings, I can’t tell what I was thinking about and how I was feeling, and none of you could either. The same applies to any performer.

And we don’t need Jesus to tell us that love and emotion are important Olivia, everybody knows that without needing to be told.

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I don’t think there is anything wrong with quoting Jesus. Especially when what He said was so clearly true.

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Funny. Curious and Confused times? We live in a time when we can quote Karl Marz, Joe Stallin, Frederick Neiztschie, the Dali Llama but it is verboten to bring up God.

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There are lots of people who don’t believe, and quoting a religious figure carries no more weight than quoting anyone. In general, it’s a bad idea to inject religion into these sorts of discussions, when it has nothing to do with the topic.

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Olivia, a word of friendly advice from someone old enough to be your granddad. Please take it in the spirit in which it is offered. I respectfully suggest you leave the man from Nazareth out of discussions on this forum.

For one thing, I don’t think the "love" he (He, if you like) was talking about had anything to do with the emotion we normally associate with the word "love" - or any of the emotions we find in music.

But more importantly, bringing religious convictions into a discussion on an internet forum where people hold a wide spectrum of views could easily elicit comments from others that would offend you, since you appear to be a believer, and generate a lot of unnecessary negativity that will help nobody.

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There is no independent historical evidence, nor a single first-hand eyewitness account, of Jesus, from during his alledged lifetime. It’s worth pointing out that. However, if you believe in Jesus because of your religion, then that’s fine.

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Bernie 29 — just because you don’t agree doesn’t make it piffle. I know for a fact that I can change how I play a tune purely and only by changing my way of thinking. It depends on the tune, of course, but I would suggest that if you were playing a slow air while thinking about a conversation you had been having earlier, the rendition would be somewhat lacking. No-one suggested that we would be able to know what you were thinking about; but we would most likely know if you were not thinking about what you were doing.

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So Olivia, to recap, it’s apparently ok to agree or disagree about anything here, but, God forbid (oops), don’t you dare throw a casual reference about God into a discussion here because everyone will not agree and you may generate unnecessary negativity.

It is difficult for some to realize that strong Faith in Divine Providence makes it impossible to put it in a sealed box - that it is a part of all Life including music (maybe especially music). I myself think it is ok to let manifestations of Faith enter everyday conversations and encourage you not be swayed by negativity. Keep your innocence and pure heart.

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I, on the other hand, do not think it is OK to bring faith into everyday conversations, and regard religion as a sign of negativity. Which just goes to show…

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I thought we were here to discuss music instead of religion.
"Can you imagine going through life without empathy, sympathy, compassion, or love?" Unfortunately yes because I have met a few people who didn’t seem to think I had any right to have those feelings ( as if I was subhuman). Either that or they wanted to tell me or dictate to me when and where I should feel empathy, sympathy, compassion, or love. Of course these fools didn’t seem to have any of those qualities or aspects in their psyche or personality. However, I haven’t allowed it to affect my playing. I am still perfectly capable of playing with emotion and feeling if I want to or when it is necessary.

Laurence

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Olivia, I say this from experience. Bringing up anything religious here will only cause argument. You’ve done your part by stating your stance. But you’ll only find trouble here. You’ve seen how argumentative the folks here can be about the most trivial things, let alone something that’s a really big deal to many of us. There are Christians here though. This just isn’t our network.

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Thank you, Tom Connelly. And for everybody else: I was just defending my point of view to Bernie 29. Religion DOES bring up so many opinions, and I, as much as anybody, want to avoid conflict. But I think its perfectly fine to say something like that; being a Christian is who and what I am. If someone quoted from Buddha or Muhammed Ali I wouldn’t start saying "you shouldn’t say that" it’s what they believe and there’s no law against quoting on this site.

I’m sorry that such a seemingly innocent thing changed the course of my discussion.

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Hey, it happens. Let’s just say you’re a lot smarter than I was 😉

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Olivia, perhaps I can shed some light on why religious references tend to be taken negatively by many, if not most. A Biblical quote in and of itself is not a problem, but the impression that one is proselytizing is. Since your "quote" seemed a bit trite, your attributing it to Jesus could be interpreted as self-serving and preachy whether or not it was your intent. It would be the same if you had quoted a political figure. You open up a question of motives when you bring in religion or politics to a discussion that has naught to do with either.

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Muhammed Ali… you mean the former world heavyweight boxing champ, Olivia?

Perhaps his most famous quote: "I am the greatest!"

I can think of fiddle players who seem to want their playing to express that feeling.

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>> Funny. Curious and Confused times? We live in a time when we can quote Karl Marz, Joe >> Stallin, Frederick Neiztschie, the Dali Llama but it is verboten to bring up God.

You’re perfectly free to bring up your Godd, but you can’t expect others to treat such nonsense with a respect it so plainly doesn’t deserve.

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We can still talk about Frankie Gavin though, right?

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Hello Bernie,
I don’t think Olivia was pandering for "respect". I don’t think she deserved the castigation and attempts at future control that such a sweet and innocent comment elicited. You know, sometimes, it’s ok to be tolerant, even of those with strong belief in God.

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Well said, Tom. What a sad world we are living in today when we tell young people not to mention Jesus.

But emotion in music is another thing. I do agree with Bernie that there’s no telling what’s in a player’s head or heart and it really doesn’t matter. The listener gets to react from their experiences and it is there, on the receiving end, that the music is tied to emotions.

I had this same discussion with a classical guitarist recently. He asked me about this because he knew I played blues and he was expecting a mystical, metaphysical type of answer and when I told him that I’m not a method actor, I’m a musician, he didn’t understand what I meant

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Nice post Nate, both parts 🙂 I remember when one of my friends was explaining to me the difference between method acting and….. the other kind of acting… i don’t remember what it’s called though.

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The thing is Bernie, a good story teller can get people to empathise with the feelings that they have no experience of.

But sure, you won’t know if a good story teller is a ‘method actor’ or not - or what the musicians in Weejie’s clips are thinking.

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… empathise with feelings …

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I’m sorry that everything took such a turn. If I gave the impression of being a finger pointer or a Bible thumper I apologize; that is the opposite of my intent. And quoting was the wrong word, paraphrasing is better. Last thing: Everybody is entitled to their own opinions and beliefs. And let’s leave that part of the discussion at that.

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I would like to try acting in college. I guess if I have a hard time connecting with a tune I can try acting out! 🙂

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Top marks to you Olivia.

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you know, sometimes when you are getting paid to play music, you have to play stuff you don’t really like, or that you really don’t feel like playing that night. That’s when I’m glad that it isn’t necessary to get "in the mood" for any particular tune. You just play it, do the best you can, and let the people out in the crowd get in the mood on their own

its a real blessing actually. Imagine if we had to emotionally connect with every tune we played in a night. We’d all be schizophrenics

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Nate Ryan: "there’s no telling what’s in a player’s head or heart and it really doesn’t matter. The listener gets to react from their experiences and it is there, on the receiving end, that the music is tied to emotions."

I disagree with this. Although, I think it is the way most people play the music — as though it doesn’t matter what the performer actually feels; as though the music is simply a trick to elicit a response in the listener, and the responsibility for discerning the feeling in the music is solely in the listener.

Music (as is true of most art) is a form of communication. There is so much more that can be put into that communication of the performer actually includes some emotional content. The more ‘real’ the content, the better.

To be sure, it is difficult to put true feeling into a performance. But it is also a great opportunity to make the music really yours. If you do it well, the difference can be heard. We all have things to express. It is why a lot of people play this music — because they have something to say. Not everyone has amazing technical abilities or has mastered the ITM form. But, nonetheless, they can express themselves. Maybe the better players can express themselves better — but maybe not. The better players certainly have more tools at their disposal.

To my mind ITM is not about solving the puzzle of how to play technically like a master — something that can take decades of practice. Rather it is about a very personal experience — finding a way to put into music something that is meaningful to me — and perhaps have someone hear it and understand a bit of what I am putting into it. Every listener filters what they hear through their own experiences, but if the message is there, a good listener can appreciate it.

Certainly not everyone agrees with this idea. There are top players (whom I would not name) who do not expose their inner feelings in their music — and even so they can be wonderful to listen to. And I know some performers who are mediocre technically, but are experts at expressing their feelings and experiences — and they are a joy to listen to.

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you know, I think that you have to separate the love we have for playing, the love we have for music, and the actual work of producing the music with our instruments.

I love music quite a bit and I’m not a mechanical player at all. But exactly how do I get that emotion through the instrument? Isn’t it by paying attention to the smallest details? that begins to sound like the mysteries of life there

now ask yourself…can you play a tune that you don’t like? Also, do you feel the same emotion every time you play a particular tune, or do you just like that tune and always have fun playing it? there’s a difference there, subtle yes, but a difference

I think that the listener really applies the emotional content, and I’m really talking here in a philosophic way. Aesthetics, I think, is the formal subject, but the basic idea is that it is the listener that completes the music in their aesthetic experience. Which is why we all like different things and can have different reactions to the same performance

and to be clear, I do believe that we can have personal feelings towards the music we play. I just don’t think a listener could tell what those feelings were

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I am talking exactly about the production of the music with the instrument, making use of your talents and technique and whatever else you have, to express the feelings you have at the moment of playing. I am talking about adding/enhancing/controlling an emotional component to what flows into the performance.

Perhaps it is a bit mysterious, but it is quite real — or at least it can be real. Some players are willing to discuss their process for doing this. Martin Hayes is a good example, and I have heard him discuss this topic on different occasions. He is not the only one. Nor is this a new topic — but has been discussed and practiced by plenty of people over the years.

To be clear, I am not referring just to how we feel towards or about the music, I am talking about the feelings we put into the music. And, I also am not surprised that most people do not really practice putting their feelings into music. It is not simple and for some reason is not comfortable for many people. I suspect there was a time when it was more common.

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thanks to all for your patience with my daughter, olivia. she’s young and got in a bit over her head, and will keep further posts and comments to music in general.

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Hello Mrs. Mason,
I am sorry that Olivia’s sweet comment - harmful to no one - caused her angst. I would have been kind to let it go on by but seems !everything! here generates contentiousness. I end my comments here with another biblical quote directly from the Aramaic translation: "But Yeshua said to them, “Let the children come to me and do not forbid them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.”

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Here endeth the lesson.

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Actually, while Olivia didn’t mean to introduce religion into the discussion, I would be surprised that a serious discussion of emotion and music did not turn to religion at some point. I completely understand that many people are not religious, and that some of those even see religion in a negative light. But for people who are religious, music is often intertwined with their faith and beliefs. Religious belief and the emotions drawn from it has infused much of the music made by humans over the years.

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you’re absolutely right Al

I’ve been thinking about this today. When I am playing expressively, honestly, I am thinking in terms of musical ideas. When I’m playing classical guitar I’m working with dynamic contrast, tone color, even the intangibles like phrasing. What I don’t do when I play a sad song is think about the day my dog was run over in order to put myself in the emotional context. This is what I really mean when I talk about method acting

So when I am playing expressively, I am using musical means and speaking in the language of music. Emotionally, I like to be in a particular "zone" where I feel like an antennae for the spirit in the room and then channel that through my axe. I used to play a lot of gigs, and I recognized that it seemed to take time for most guys to get to that emotional state. By time, I mean by the third set or after an hour or something like that.

Years ago, I actually worked on being able to get to that state virtually in the first chorus of the first tune. That’s the goal I shoot for anyway.

So for me, external emotions of my life and my day is what I push aside and try and open my head, and I imagine my heart as well since I need to feel good, but I put my spirit to the music and my mind to working in musical terms

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I don’t think playing with feeling is as simple as playing ‘sad tunes’ sadly and ‘happy tunes’ happily. That trivializes the reality of what is going on. True feelings are seldom so cut and dry. Even the tunes are usually not so simply described as ‘happy tunes’ and ‘sad tunes’. If you could see emotions as colors, the world would not be painted in single colors (like red), but would be a variety of shades and patterns (mixtures of rust and magenta over some yellow stripes) . It is the same with feelings. For example, think of elation mixed with relief and anger. It is not even necessary that you are able to put your feelings into words, but if you can connect with your playing, you can put it into your music.

I think the idea of ‘tricking yourself’ into a state of mind is pretty common, and is a different idea from putting your true feelings into your music. Perhaps you have had conversations with people where they seem to be talking with ‘sincerity’, but you can tell — from the body language or the look in their eyes — what their true feelings are. The same happens in the music. Fakery is fine, as far as it goes, but honesty hits with much more impact. We are all conditioned to push aside our feelings, to hide them. It makes life much more livable. How can we trust people and let them know how we truly feel. It is a very vulnerable position to be in. Really, we would prefer that they think we are feeling appropriately ‘happy’, or ‘sad’ depending on the occasion — and leave it at that. I think it is a rare music teacher who even brings up the topic — other than general advice to ‘play with more feeling’ and perhaps some hints on ways to fake it. Even if you do find yourself or put yourself into a ‘desired’ emotional state, the difficult part is connecting that state with your playing — especially since we spend so much time practicing to separate our feelings from our playing.

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Of those three clips I posted above, the first should explain itself. Andy Statman (as always) is putting his "soul" (if you’ll pardon the religious expression) into the music. The other two clips illustrate something else. IMO, the Perlman/Statman rendition of The Flatbush Waltz expresses far more emotion than the cover version. However, those distressing scenes in the other clip invoke emotions. I’m not sure if Statman meant his waltz as anything but a Yiddish structured waltz commemorating an area of Brooklyn, but the imagery is decided in that cover clip. If you were to use the visual images from that clip with the recording of the Perlman/Statman rendition, I can’t imagine many people not being emotionally moved to a considerable extent. However, the feeling is there without the imagery.

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Nate, you said:

"I think that the listener really applies the emotional content, and I’m really talking here in a philosophic way. "

This is exactly right in my opinion. There is a clear parallel with "meaning" in language. The meaning of words, phrases and sentences is exclusively in the mind of the speaker and listener, it is not in the words at all. Like you I am talking in a philosophical way. Of course in everyday life we all act as though words have more or less fixed meanings, but while it is entirely possible to go through life without realising it, this is not actually true.

Gam, you suggested that if I played a slow air while thinking about something irrelevant, that would be detectable in the performance. Well I don’t play a lot of slow airs, but I do occasionally play one at a session, it’s become a sort of "in-joke". That is the meaning of the tune in my mind and the minds of people who are in on the joke.

But when I play the slow air, people who aren’t in on the joke will simply be hearing a slow air, and making whatever associations they make with slow airs. I’ve listened to a recording of myself playing the joke air at a session, and it just sounds the same as if I was playing it "with deep emotion".

The meaning of words and music is exclusively in the individual minds of those who speak, play and listen.

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That looks more like shallow acting for the camera than ‘emotional’ playing to me.
P.S. FWIW I would make a distinction between ‘emotional’ playing and playing with feeling. The word ‘emotional’ is a bit, er, emotive.

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B-b-but … it’s Emile Benoit!

Oh, forget it … maybe it’s just me … mutter … mutter …

😏

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Close your eyes, and Mr. Benoit sounds genuinely happy, and like he is having fun with what he is doing. I would say that the visuals are a bit over the top.

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Music is alchemy for the soul, transmuting sorrow into something of beauty.

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Olivia, try and ignore the negativity - it seems that being young is an offence punishable by death or listening to solo bodhran cd’s on here. :P the yellow pages here are plagued by people who think they *are* God, or at least that their opinion should be held as such!

re. the God-related post, I believe it is covered by freedom of expression! Generally unless you’re beating someone enthusiastically over the head with it, or hijacking a thread to be about your beliefs, an opinion is OK. Nothing to apologise for.

Apparently it’s ok to bash theists nowadays, under the general caveat that belief is silly or ruins lives. Ignoring the obvious truism that this itself is a faith based statement (and therefore presumably as open to criticism for prosletysing?) it’s also more than a little like hate-speech.

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Olivia, The Butterfly is a great example of a tune that is really open to the artist’s emotional input. It can be the story of the warm days of summer coming to a reluctant close or a comical and sweet elephant dance (read e.e. cummings’ The Elephant and the Butterfly - a very short children’s tale).