Don’t roll your eyes, folks! This is real!
I have attended a couple Psychology of Music classes, and now I’m questioning so many areas of my musical tastes that it’s creating a small, yet mildly interesting, musical identity crisis. The whole class is constructed on a collection of questions about music, why it has the effect it does on certain people, what music learning does for us, why we like the music we do, etc. I immediately thought, “Ohhhh this will be awesome to answer these questions!” Now it’s making me ask more questions about myself and that’s not cool. Sort of.
Our first assignment was fairly simple. We had to send our professor a Youtube link of a piece we think it great music, accompanied with a short paragraph to explain our reasonings. Here is mine:
Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor
I know this is a strange selection for a choral person, but I’m a former double bassist and had the opportunity to play this piece in high school and I have never forgotten it! What I love about this piece is the emotional unpredictability it has as you listen. It begins almost in a dreary “work song” feel, and gradually takes a turn to a really beautiful section, one that always makes me think of something a pianist would play in a classy hotel lounge! Then, suddenly, it’s back to tension and urgency. Each section is equally beautiful to the next, and I just think it’s brilliant! I suppose my definition of “great music” would be one that exudes beauty in any and/or every emotional state. Ironically, text can sometimes get in the way for me. I more appreciate how texts are set, and how the melodies and choral structures are created around them. Hopefully that doesn’t make me an ineffective choral conductor!
Um, what? I’m a choral director who doesn’t care so much about text? Did I just ruin my life in that one assignment?! Do I deserve a PhD in this field?!
Or am I completely overreacting and this is just an interesting factoid, that maybe makes sense when we dig it all out?
My only explanation for all of this is that I was an instrumentalist first, and for quite a long time before I ever started singing. I began piano lessons at age 8, violin in 3rd grade, guitar in 8th grade, double bass in 9th, and singing in choir suddenly appeared in 11th just because all my friends were in the class and I accepted that I had a natural ability to hear harmony (but mainly because of the friends). Sure, I became a songwriter when I started playing guitar, and that is a heavy lyric-driven activity, but to this day I have always felt my music was stronger than my lyrics. (And, not that I’m bitter, but my NSAI evaluators tend to strongly agree with me whenever I submit a song for critiquing…but I digress…).
This whole assignment makes me feel like a con artist! If language and text don’t tend to move me, why didn’t I become an orchestral conductor?
Here’s the real doozy: Playing an instrument doesn’t move me like singing in a choir moves me.
Gosh darn it, am I a mess or what? Let’s get this straight: Instrumental music and chordal structures tend to catch my ear more than text, but playing in an instrumental ensemble does not feed my soul at all. Music, you are really making me feel like I belong in a musical straight jacket!
Singing in a choir is far more enjoyable for me, simply because it is a more social environment. I feel more of a bond with people I’m singing with, and in general feel like an important part of an ensemble. That has some scientific support, too. Google it!
My professor explained my panic and questions in one statement: “You’re a musician!” Oh gosh, what a relief!
We aren’t just choir folk, band geeks, orchestra dorks, etc. We’re musicians. What a concept! And importantly, what a concept we should teach our students: BE MUSICIANS!!
Learn your instrument, practice sight reading, develop leadership skills, and keep listening to music that moves you!
Have you ever felt like you were having a musical identity crisis? What kind of music moves you? Leave a comment below, or continue the conversation on Twitter @LindsayBrazell.