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The Hunt for Lyricism

I promise to get back to the idea of seeing vs. believing one of these days. Meanwhile, I'm preparing for several talks in Pennsylvania and thought you might be interested in seeing something from my notes on those topics!

In the struggle to find the perfect lyric melody, what elements hold a performer back? How does a teacher explain to a student how to "do" lyricism? And... How can a blogger possible describe in words that which seems otherworldly at times?

When I look at a score, it falls into pieces — chunks of notes that belong together and provide vital information for my future interpretation of a work or passage. Usually, the left hand divides into two or more elements, the "throw away" notes that serve only to confirm harmonies and those lovely fence-post notes that carve a bass-line melody out of the texture. But I will save that discussion for another day. Similarly, the right hand melody divides into short patterns that help me determine how I will negotiate the overall line. Usually I search for two- three-notes groups that belong together musically. One note often creates tension while the other offers, at least temporarily, a point of respite. Temporarily focusing on and taming these small note groupings is key to, well, focusing on and taming larger note groupings. Below is a graphic I made demonstrating how these subphrases create the underpinning to larger phrase structures. For those of you who suffered through Schenkerian theory as I did, you will know where I started developing these thoughts (although it is quite different than the analysis Schenker discussed).

In these few bars from Chopin's Nocturne in B Major, the red brackets draw together the musical connections on the smallest level and with each level, larger groups of notes are included until two phrases are cultivated. There are several ways to view these subphrases, I will probably change my mind about them as soon as I publish this post, and I might do something entirely different in a performance, but it is a start. Finding and developing these small melodic gestures in my playing was key to finally breaking through to playing lyrically. I encourage you to look at your own music to discover these fascinating melodic micro particles.

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Deborah Rambo Sinn

Deborah Rambo Sinn