13 Jan 2021
I've been thinking about how one continues to develop as a practitioner and the relationship between the work addressed in daily practice and one's output as a musician.
It's useful to categorise my musical projects in an effort to clarify the key musical contexts in which I perform. It's fair to say that broadly speaking I see my musical world divided into two distinct areas; notated music and improvised music. I will discuss the role of notated music shortly but suffice to say, the vast majority of that repertoire is Western Art Music.
The category of improvised Music is situated across a spectrum from compositionally organised contemporary world/folk music at one end, to free-improvisation at the other. The musical skills required to traverse the musics of multiple ensembles are difficult to capture in a one-size-fits- all, catch-all. For example, the expertise required to rhythmically comp, create voicings and improvise over a harmonically complex contemporary jazz style composition, seems worlds apart from what is required when performing a free improvisation - flow, an attention to the immediacy of how to manage the generation of ideas whether internal or external, and an ability to source ideas from a deep and sometimes unfathomable part of one's lived musical experience.
And this is where I start to find my practice and output seem to head in different directions. It's a matter of immediate focus verses the things that rub off simply as a result of time spent at the instrument absorbing and refining any high quality repertoire. For example, the process and experience of learning a Bach Sinfonia has a number of obvious immediate musical benefits such as awareness and differentiation of parts, flow and diatonicism. But over the long term one learns about gesture, melodic shape, form, modulation, development of ideas and harmony. All important components of improvisation.
The more I think about it, the more I feel that my first priority is given to gaining greater insight into my instrument - whatever the path. Playing notated, composed repertoire provides a context, a platform and a musical environment through which focus can be shone on both the learning, developmental process as well as in the execution. The physicality of gesture, the depth and richness of tone, the immediacy of articulation. All important forms of musical awareness that once ingrained can be drawn upon in the most elegant forms of expression, regardless of context.
And that is why I practise what I practise.