Saturday, March 24, 2007

Inspired by the 'missed take'

Speaking of improvisation, I can't help but mention that the instance of misspelling Strauss in that last post was originally a mistake. Although many mistakes go unfixed in this blog, I noticed that one pretty quickly, before I'd posted, and just as quickly realized that it worked that way. Since I was talking about faking my through Strauss, it seemed appropriate to describe the result as Struass. (Incidentally, there's also an amusing connection between my new word and my "Fake Your Tutti" idea.) In fact, that's a perfect illustration of one of the wonderful things about improvisation - "mistakes" can often be reinterpreted in the moment as creative inspirations. I know much less about jazz performance than I wish, but I know that the idea of "wrong notes" is much more fluid than in classical. That's not to say there's no concern for accuracy, but part of being creative is working with what you have - and sometimes what you have is a mistake.

Of course, one could easily expand this concept to all sorts of life situations; staying with music, one could say that what makes many musical works satisfying is the sense that the composer has taken something that seems unpromising and reimagined it in a way that is illuminating. How often, one wonders, is the reimagining inspired by a mistake or a wrong turn? Like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, maybe the 'mistake' just needs a little 'improving.'

When I was compiling my very subjective list of favorite musical works, I mentioned my own surprise at choosing only Debussy's Violin Sonata from among his magnificent output. I admire Debussy tremendously and at other times might include many more of his works, but it was clear to me that the sense of struggle, improvisation, and even occasional awkwardness in that piece is something that brings it closer to my heart than beautifully refined pieces like Reflets dans l'eau.

No, that's not some fixed aesthetic principle for me; I adore lots of Bach that's as refined as could be imagined, but as a performer there's something especially gratifying about playing music where one feels the composer creating out of something less than perfect. I think that's one of the qualities I love about Schumann's Kreisleriana - there's a sense of discovery in playing it that I'm not sure I ever find in many more refined pieces by Chopin. (Not saying it's better than Chopin or that I love it more than, say, the F Minor Ballade or Barcarolle. Just sayin'.)

I can't leave the subject of improvisation behind without citing the three great Christopher Guest movies, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and, the best of the them all, A Mighty Wind. (Yes, I know This is Spinal Tap belongs there as well, but I don't know it as well.) They all feature mostly improvised 'scripts' that I find more enjoyable than all but a handful of real screenplays. So, when you notice 'typos' here and there in my posts, consider them 'moments of discovery' - and perhaps genius.

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