If I were to ask you, using only words, to describe to me the perfect clarinet sound, would I be able to understand exactly what you hear in your head? No. Words are inadequate. However, if you spoke the language of music by playing your concept of perfect tone, I understand by experiencing the sound.
How does one experience sound? Let’s say Connie lives in Nevada and just made the all-state band. As a reward for this honor, Connie’s parents promise her a trip to Disneyland. While in Los Angeles, they attend a concert of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra with Sabine Meyer soloing on the Mozart Clarinet Concerto. Connie, for the first time in her life, hears a purity and quality of sound she has never experienced. Hearing Sabine Meyer indelibly imprints a new concept that Connie can copy and try to recreate in her own playing.
Hearing musicians at the highest levels of performance can instruct and enlighten musicians to listen for greater nuance, sensitivity, control, and expression. Sounds produced at the professional level give examples we can incorporate into our music-making to achieve the next level of excellence.
Here are a few examples of what I am talking about. Please follow this YouTube link to a performance of the vocal group Voctave. The precision, intonation, balance, and blend are exceptional and a great model for one to use in any ensemble. The first time through, listen to the entire performance. Then, listen for these specific items:
0:15 – 0:38: Listen to the inflection of Mark Lowry’s words. Some notes have more stress than others. There are slight pauses, increasing the dramatic effect. Most music demands a steady pulse, but there are occasional places where tempo can “breathe.”
2:21 – 2:37: The high G is sustained while chords change around it. The length of the sustained note and the dissonances that occur around it increase the musical tension, almost to an unbearable point.
2:32 – 2:34: When everything arrives at 2:32 for maximum effect and we finally have a major chord resolution, the soprano at 2:34 sings an even higher note adding another level to this already amazing point of arrival.
2:41: This is a great example of how contrast can add another dimension to your musical expression. The difference in volume and mood from what just happened is marvelous. (You can also hear this contrast in Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”)
3:41 to end: The piece ends exactly like it starts at 3:41, but listen to the quality and control of the last soprano note. Her voice sounds like a flute playing very softly, again floating to the top. If you are a musician, strive to control high notes at this level of excellence.
Why is listening important? College recruiters understand that just by attending live performances, a student’s musical awareness is expanded. Intangible elements of music and musical expression are learned through these listening experiences. Hearing professionals play enhances a student’s growth providing another way to better position for scholarship opportunities.