Magazine article The American Organist

From the Chaplain

Magazine article The American Organist

From the Chaplain

Article excerpt

Wrong Notes in a Splendid Performance

YEARS AGO, when I was seriously studying the flute, I remember one lesson in particular. I was playing for my teacher, John Oberbrunner, a major work that I was about to perform in public. We had agreed that I was to play the piece all the way through, as I would in the public performance, and then he would respond to what he had heard. I do not recall exactly what the piece was, nor do I remember the whole of my teacher's response. But there is one thing he said that I have never forgotten. I had played a dotted half note just before a rest of several beats, and I had forgotten that it was supposed to be a sharp, not a natural. During the measure's rest that followed the wrong note, I lifted the flute from my lips and grimaced in disgust with myself before the next entrance. How could I possibly have forgotten that the note was a sharp, not a natural! I had practiced it a thousand times. What was I thinking?

Evidently my grimace had been severe enough that it appeared as if I had swallowed something vile and repugnant. My teacher spoke highly of the overall interpretation, but he then said something like this: "As someone listening and watching you play, what I will always remember is not the performance but that terrible face you made after your single wrong note. If you play a wrong note, do not acknowledge it to the audience. Be bold. Play on as if that wrong note were in the score, because you want your listeners to remember the beauty they did hear, not the one brief flaw that was far more amplified in your ears than in theirs."

John Oberbrunner's words came back to me when I read the following observation of Robert Shaw, the famous choral conductor: "In the very worst sermon, political address, classroom lecture, or musical performance, something of value may happen. You can muddle or muffle the words of Isaiah, Lincoln, or Galileo, but they will not be silenced. …

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