Friday, February 13, 2015

Swimming in Repertoire

One of the unforeseen consequences of my having made the move from IT research into writing about music is that I seem to have built up a voracious appetite for repertoire. As I learned from reading Leonard Slatkin's memoir, Conducting Business: Unveiling the Mystery Behind the Maestro, such activity is one of the cornerstones of a conservatory education, at least at places like Juilliard, which Slatkin attended. It presumes that a comprehensive knowledge of music requires the broadest possible account of what has been documented, preferably coupled with devoting time to both recordings and performances to account for what has been made from those documents.

The good news is that I can pursue this activity through both attending as many performances as my schedule (and personal endurance) will allow and following up on opportunities to write about recordings. As of the beginning of March, I shall have been writing for for six years. That was preceded by building up my writing chops through several years of blogging, initially casual and progressively more and more serious. I have thus been evolving out of the state of a "passive consumer" for about a decade, perhaps to the point that repertoire now constitutes the medium of my existence, rather the way in which water does for a fish.

Every now and then someone will ask me how I retain it all. The fact is that I don't; and, at my advanced age, I am less and less likely to do so as time passes. I sometimes joke that I now depend on Google when my memory is failing, meaning that I write as much as I can "into" simply to make sure that Google will help me when I need it.

On the other hand I still make it a point not to take notes during a performance. Paying attention to writing down something means you are not paying attention to your auditory channels, and I simply will not abide by that latter option. Besides, human memory is not a file cabinet. It is an ongoing process of recollection. Just looking at a printed p program seems to be enough to set the wheels of that process in motion. What it yields provides the substance of what I write, and anything that does not emerge from that process was probably not worth writing about anyway.

I thus find myself in a somewhat complex and possibly tenuous relationship with both knowledge and memory. Exercise is as fundamental to maintaining that relationship as physical exercise is in maintaining the health and fitness of my body. (Because the latter is not particularly demanding on mind, I often use it as an occasion to begin to rehearse the thoughts that will find their way into writing.)

Does this protect me against lapses of memory when I need to recall something? Not at all. However, I think it does help me to sharpen my skills as a writer, even when mind is not always up to summoning up the specific memories I need or want.

Will I be able to keep this up indefinitely? I have no idea. Nevertheless, back when I was writing dance reviews as a student, I got to know Kathleen Eaton Cannell, who wrote for The Christian Science Monitor. She kept at it to the very end. One night she wrote up the performance that she had just attended, went to bed, and died peacefully in her sleep.

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