Emotional Intelligence Improved my Musical Pursuit and Life Part 3

The Many Truths of Life

“Acceptance is as important as oxygen” -Kristen Bell

How many times have you had an argument and you won’t stop until someone is deemed “right”? In musical terms, how many times have you listened to different recordings of the same piece to figure out who does it “right”? I’ve had this constant struggle with the Mozart Clarinet Concerto. I’ve wasted so much time trying to figure out how to do it “right” that I ended up really despising it. I couldn’t understand how Martin Frost would play it differently than Robert Marcellus would play it differently than Stanley Drucker would play it differently than Todd Levy, etc… and they could all be right? That clearly cannot be possible. In listening to those various recordings, I was unknowingly teaching myself a very important life lesson, there is no right and wrong, there is only different.

I’ve actually come to hate the terms “right” and “wrong”. The truth is, everyone views topics in life differently based on their knowledge and experiences. When we realize this and accept this, we’re making more room for acceptance and love in our lives. This is something we need more of in our daily lives. Differing ideas can lead to war and violence, but they can also lead to discussions and growth. We get into trouble when we say something is wrong and completely shut down a different perspective. What if there is room for both perspectives?

“On Purpose” by Jay Shetty has become one of my absolute favorite podcasts to listen to. He is a life coach who bases his teachings off of his many years of training as a monk. I highly recommend checking it out! I was listening to his interview with Kristen Bell while I was driving and she said two things that really stuck with me. She said, “You’re in charge of your perspective” and “Acceptance is as important as oxygen”. These are small but mighty statements and they all come from stepping into the shoes of people around us and understanding their truths. Understanding how their truths align with ours and also how they differ, yet accepting that their differing truths don’t mean they are wrong; just that they have experienced life differently and that’s okay.

When this concept is translated to music, something truly beautiful happens; we get multiple interpretations of the same piece. The best performers bring their life experiences to their performances. Since everyone experiences life differently, no two people will perform a piece the exact same way. I want to be very clear here, you cannot blatantly play different notes than what the composer wrote. You cannot play different dynamics than what are written in the music. You cannot play in a style inappropriate for the time the piece was written in. This is where knowledge comes before experience. In terms of Mozart, you have to play in a classical style, you have to play in time, you have to play in tune, you must understand Mozart’s music. Once you know all of that, you then get to interpret the piece and make your best interpretation with the knowledge you have and bring your life experience within that interpretation.

As an example of this to make it very clear, I want to compare the interpretations of the Mozart Concerto of Martin Frost and my professor, Todd Levy. These two play the correct rhythms, notes, intonations, etc… What’s more interesting is looking at how they differ.

  1. They play on different instruments. Martin Frost uses the Basset Clarinet which is historically what the concerto was written for. Todd Levy plays on the A clarinet, which is what is common performance practice.

  2. Todd Levy adds in extended unwritten cadenzas. Martin Frost does not.

  3. They articulate in different places. *Note- the original manuscript was lost and so we can only speculate the “correct” articulation.

  4. Their tones are different.

  5. Their energy is different.

I think you’re getting the point. They are both playing the same piece, but with different understandings of the knowledge available. And get this, neither are wrong! Martin Frost has a different story to tell than Todd Levy, so their expression and phrasing may be different. They’re also at different points in their life and have very different careers. They are both clarinet players who enjoy playing Mozart, but their life experience is very different. There are multiple truths when playing a piece of music and the best truth to bring to a performance is the one that YOU believe in with the knowledge that you are given.

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