In praise of musicians who inspire me

A few posts ago, Lauren said something about every great romance needing a bad breakup. I kind of hope that's not true, but I can vouch for the idea that my own great romance with the trombone has gone through a number of periods of distance and mistrust. Usually it starts with me setting a goal that's too ambitious, goes through a stretch where conscientious practice doesn't achieve the goal, moves on to a period where I don't practice and get worse for it, and eventually get so frustrated I put the horn down for a time.

The usual path back for me is a reminder of why I do this. Usually this comes from hearing some other musician do something I really want to be able to do, usually through a recording, and oddly enough, almost never from another trombonist. Most often when I hear a really good trombonist, the Joe Alessis and Alain Trudels of the world, I think, "I could never do that!" and come away discouraged. Most often it's not a trombonist at all.

One of the most vivid instances of a non-trombonist pulling me back into trombonery happened a few years ago when I re-discovered the great German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Every male who sings lieder- which is probably every male who's taken more than two or three voice lessons- knows Fischer-Dieskau as one of the best lieder singers of the past century. (I can't vouch for the women, I'm sure they've got their own lieder virtuouso! Although Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson comes to mind as my personal pick.) He has his detractors- people say his voice is too small for opera, and that's probably true, and they say that his low range is not as good as it should be for a serious baritone, and that's probably true too.

But for my money, among baritones, there is simply no one better at providing the range of emotions and characters necessary to flesh out the gamut of German art song, whether it's the delirious joy of parts of Schubert's Schöne Müllerin or the horrible melancholy of Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, his impeccable phrasing, near perfect technique, and loving attention to detail and character bring out the stories behind the songs, without any compromises to the soul of the music. And once, when I had laid the trombone down with the full intention of never picking it back up, I listened to a cd I had of Fischer-Dieskau, with Leonard Bernstein playing piano, of Mahler's Rückertlieder, and I remembered why I do this: there are some events, some emotions, that are simply inadequately expressed through any other medium, and some places you can only get to through playing music.

So I got the horn back out. I think it still took me a couple of days, but it was inevitable as soon as I had heard that cd again. And temporarily chastened, I set back to the diligent study of the Rochut etudes to try to find the places that people like Fischer-Dieskau take me when I hear them perform, and some small fraction of his ability to take people with him.

1 comment:

  1. Seeing that video of Joe Alessi and all the argument underneath in the comments about how it can't be Alessi because he made a mistake and frakked a note just struck me as odd. How human of one of the greatest trombonists alive -- and they dismiss the performer as an impostor.

    Hearing him screw up gives me a little solace as a trombonist, I think!