Thomas Stevens

Musicianship vs. Musicality

  • General Quotes

Musicianship and Musicality: Musicians Must Possess Both Qualities

Musicianship consists of the basic, fundamental elements of music performance that, for the most part, can be taught. Musicality, by contrast, consists of those elements that are usually not taught but learned and/or assimilated through one’s musical exposure, experience, environment, and including one’s psychological profile. Consequently, it would be fair to state that one could be a good musician and not be very “musical”, and vice versa: one might be very musical and not be a very good musician. An accomplished musician must possess both qualities

The above paragraph represents this writer’s best effort to paraphrase, in formal written language, a point of view offered by Leonard Bernstein at summer music institute (ca. early 1980s).

In the evolving look and listen method of performance preparation, where one looks at (instead of actually reading) the music while listening to recordings of the same, general musicianship training has not always been a top priority.

Indeed, the net results of the look and listen approach has all too often been mindless repetitions of the same (recorded) performances, at times even repeating the mistakes heard on the (source) recordings! And quite ironically, this is happening at a time in music performance history when so many musicians are at least giving lip service to the concept of highly individual, personalized interpretations. Really. Counterintuitive.

Performers well trained in basic musicianship, however, even when using recordings as a learning tool (which we all do) tend to read music more critically when listening, using the music and recordings as foundations, or points of departure, from which to develop their own interpretations. Simple logic would dictate that this approach would have a greater chance of producing the prized personalized interpretations than the parrot-like look and listen method.

William Vacchiano’s so-called Rules were very much the same strictures that many leading wind and string players (in other words, single-line instruments), whose roots extended back to the Paris Conservatory of the early 20th century, employed in their teaching. By the 1970s, however, due to the changing musical landscape, including the ascension of the trumpet as a bona fide solo and chamber music instrument, the limits of the Vacchiano’s Rules, at least in their original form, had rendered them démodé, and even Professor Vacchiano gradually abandoned their use. I believe this was done in error, and that what should have been done was to expand and update the old tenets. A few of us Vacchiano students did just that, and while we went in our own directions, the old Rules were in there somewhere as points of departure.

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