Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Language of Music

Lenguaje Musical
Musical Language 
Today finds me in Barquisimeto, the fourth largest city in Venezuela. The fellows are all about to hunker down and begin to delve into the work here, connecting, observing, teaching, and learning with and within the many nucleo communities to be found in this area. 
While I am inundated by the rich deluge of experiences, one of the few particular aspects of the work I want to focus on is how the nucleos interact with the language of music. How is it taught to the students? How is it spoken about? Is it learned independently of their instruments? In a group? Is improvisation a natural part of the process? Is composition a unique occurrence? 
I have already encountered two very different ways that nucleos might introduce and nurture the language of music. In the Montalban nucleo, they have a curriculum scaffolded and structured around the Lenguaje Musical, Musical Language. Once a student picks up an instrument, they begin classes on sightsinging, dictation, and theory concurrently with their ensemble studies. Every student in the nucleo attends a musical language class at least once a week. They attend class with others who play the same instrument, and the nucleo has a musical language guide book for each instrument. Typically, whole sections will study theory together as they progress through the nucleo. This seems to be familiar to me. Separate theory classes are the basis of musical training in the states.  
In the Sarria nucleo, reading and theory are taught completely ensconced within sectionals and private lessons. There is no additional class, and all theoretical teaching is driven by repertoire, as are the technical skills. This repertoire based technical and theoretical curriculum calls for a very intentional, scaffolded series of pieces chosen for their musical and pedagogical value. It’s all taught with instrument in hand, never in a class. This is more unfamiliar, yet very exciting. Are there others who teach like this? What repertoire could be used for the first week? The first month? The first year? 
I move forward, hopefully encountering many more nucleos along the way, excitedly exploring the relationship other programs have with the language of music. There is no judgement, only intense curiosity. 
Let’s take a moment to reminisce about the very first post on this blog, remembering my excitement regarding the potential for creativity within the discipline of Sistema:
My personal goal within the fellowship is to research and encourage the possibility of working with the concepts of improvisation and composition from the moment musical education begins. The potential is enormous, and is but a subtle shift of the understanding of musical language. Music is not just a language for one to speak, like speeches to be read off the page via the violin, much like one might perform Shakespeare. It is also a language of creation, of personal expression and exploration. Every pitch, every rhythm is another tool/ingredient/option to potentially be re-imagined into a unique composition. If music was taught with the understanding that it is also as malleable as language, as fluid as finger paint, perhaps we could nurture a generation of composers. 

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