February 28, 2012

Family Chamber Music Societies

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Successful family living strikes me as being in many ways rather like playing chamber music.  Each member of the ensemble has his own skills, his own special knack with the part he chooses to play; but the grace and strength and sweetness of the performance come from everyone’s willingness to subordinate individual virtuosity and personal ambition to the requirements of balance and blend.

The great difference between ensemble playing and ensemble living is that for the one you have a prescribed pattern that shows you where to come in and how to weave your own part in and out among the intricacies of the other players’ notes; when to take the leading part, and when to twitter away quietly in the background.  But living together is a perpetual exercise in improvization.  Most of us senior members of family chamber music societies have some idea of what the general form and finish of the composition should be — heaven help us if we have not!  But we direct the proceedings without rehearsal, and with players who are feeling their way, sometimes timidly and sometimes with comical forthrightness, through the unwritten score.

Not for us is the satisfaction of retrieving our errors as actual players do, with, “Let’s take that passage over again and this time do it right.”  What’s gone is gone, and the worst of our case is that sometimes in the surge and press of our performance we are not even aware of the nature of our mistakes and are troubled by discords that we are powerless to remedy.  We can only play resolutely on, hoping that by practice we shall learn to execute similar passages with skill and assurance and so, perhaps, make amends for our earlier blunders.  Nor is there any counterpart in our experience of that other prerogative of real ensemble players: never on coming to the end of a beautifully played movement can we exclaim, “That was marvelous! Let’s do it again!” Families can never count on repeating the joys of success: they can only remember. — Annis Duff, “Longer Flight”: A Family Grows Up with Books, 11-12.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:18 pm | Discuss (0)

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