Learning and Unlearning

I forgot how exhausting school is!  It’s enriching and rewarding… and makes me think so hard my head hurts.  But what a good feeling that is!  I have felt intellectually stimulated for the last few days…a feeling that is only bearable because he is paired with his sister, music, which satisfies the emotional half.  The two together – the notes on the page and the music off the page – plus the intoxicating location of Paris have made this first week quite a delight.

I realize that I haven’t exactly explained what I’m doing very well, so let me take a moment to do just that.  Back around Christmas, an acquaintance of mine said, “It’s really a shame you can’t do this month-long music program in Paris.  It’s through the European-American Musical Alliance, and my friend teaches there.  You would’ve loved it.”  I immediately went home and Googled it.  Maybe I could do it.  A month of work to better my skills and do some vocational discerning?  Sounds like something Pastor Karen would support.  So I talked with her, and I applied.

The EAMA offers programs in composition, chamber music, and conducting; I am spending the month focusing on conducting.  But really, it is a much broader picture than that.  The organization’s president, Philip Lasser, was a student of Nadia Boulanger, a famous french composer and organist, who developed her own methodologies of teaching musicianship.  Boulanger’s teaching tools have influenced many famous musicians.  Among her students were Aaron Copland, Francis Dhomont, Philip Glass, and Quincy Jones.  There are many efforts still today to pass on Boulanger’s traditions, including this program.  There are about 65 students within the three concentrations, and we are gathered in Paris for the month of July to collaborate, study, and practice music!

Boulanger’s philosophy of creating music is well outlined by poet W.H. Auden, who said that “all techniques are conventions, and therefore dangerous.  We have to learn and then unlearn.”  Essentially, Boulanger believes that we should become extremely fluent in every aspect of a piece of music.  We should be able to sing each part on solfege, play all parts in any combination on the piano, analyze the counterpoint of the harmony, play some parts while singing others… you name it – we should be able to do it!  Viewing music as a language, we should know all the vocabulary and understand all grammatical structures so that when the time comes to create – to speak – we, as Auden suggests, forget everything we’ve learned and just talk freely.

So, in an effort to learn all the musical vocabulary, we’re all taking the following classes: Musicianship, Score Reading, Species Counterpoint, Analysis, Chorale, and Keyboard Harmony.  Then on top of that, myself and 7 others have the joy of taking a conducting seminar and private lessons.  The idea is that understanding, performing, or writing a piece of music will eventually be so second nature to us that we don’t have to think much about it, just like we rarely take note of sentence structure in conversation.  Pretty badass, if I do say so myself.  I’m all about being good at a lot of different things, so I love that this program forces instrumentalists to sing and conductors to compose and composers to master the keyboard.  In the end, the program will culminate in 3 concerts, highlighting some of the compositions that are being written as I type, and giving opportunity to singers, instrumentalists, and conductors to perform.

We attended a lecture today by composer David Conte, a teacher at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.  He, too, was a student of Boulanger’s (who the hell wasn’t around here?!), and had many wonderful stories about her to share.  He described a time when Boulanger walked into their class to teach and spouted out, “Either you devote your entire life to music or you stop right now.  Otherwise, it’s like marrying someone you don’t entirely like.  I don’t know, I’ve never been married…but I don’t think it’s a good idea.”  Ha!  Geez, if I were in that classroom, I would’ve considered stopping music right then.  Am I ready to devote my entire life, to marry, music?  Well, it was convenient timing to hear that story today, because I’ve been asking myself just that question in my discernment.  And I think the honest answer is yes – I do want to immerse myself in music.  It never stands out to me as this obvious passion of mine, but I think that’s because I’ve grown up with it as such a part of me…it’s like an appendage.  I rarely stop and think about how thankful I am for my left arm and how I want it to be a part of me (literally!) for the rest of my life.  Likewise, I don’t think much about music as a special outside gift that has been offered and I must accept.  I was born with it in me, and I’m not sure I even have the option to let it go!  And I don’t mean I feel forced to do music… I just think it might be equally as hard to abandon that part of me as it would be to, say, abandon my heart.

So in any case, I’m thrilled to be back in school for the month in the land that I love with incredible people and inspiring professors.  No matter that my teachers teach at Julliard and Princeton and Mannes College of Music and the Paris Conservatory;  Luther College is a pretty compatible teammate.

Et voila!  Another too-long blog post, and I didn’t even say half the things I wanted to say.  Hopefully my rambling clued you in on some of the things going on here.  Though ultimately the moral of the story is learn all about what I’m up to, then just forget it and be my friend!  Should be easy enough.

More pictures on their way soon, so check out my Flickr page.



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