Play the Sweet Music (You Like)

May 2, 2010 on 5:10 pm by Michael Grey | In Music, Pipe Bands, Solo Piping, Tips | Comments Off on Play the Sweet Music (You Like)

I was driving to band practice this morning and happened on a really interesting interview on the radio.

Michael Enright, host of CBC Radio One’s “Sunday Edition” was talking to the famous pianist, Janina Fialkowska. She is one of the world’s preeminent piano interpreter’s of Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt, the great early-mid 19th century composers. Fialkowsaka has had a great career, winning big competitions and playing with the world’s best orchestras. She’s also had her share of tribulations. In 2002 her career came to a slamming halt: she underwent treatment for the removal of an aggressive cancerous tumour in her upper left arm. A nightmare for anyone – musician or not.

While she convalesced she gave concerts around the world presenting music composed especially for the left hand – though she used her right. Her story is an inspiring one. As she recovered she progressed from “left-handed” Ravel and Prokoviev compositions to the more familiar two-handed compositions on which she has built a career.

Today she spoke of one of the biggest professional changes that occurred as a result of her health problems: Fialkowsaka no longer agrees to play music she doesn’t like.

The standard way of things in the classical music world is something like this: a soloist is called up and asked to perform with an orchestra. The soloist is given the music to be played. And that’s it. You learn the music and show up and play well (one hopes) and get paid. Don’t like the music you’re meant to play? Tough. “Suck it up, princess”.

Fialkowsaka says now when invited to play she acknowledges the repertoire request but, if she doesn’t like it, she tells them and suggests what she will play. Apparently orchestras work with her – no probs. “I play better and audiences are happier,” she says.

The piping parallel is crazy clear.

I was thinking of all the sub-par, damn-near crappy tunes I’ve had to learn over the years courtesy of set tune lists – “The Blind Piper’s Obstinacy”, anyone? And I think Janina F has it right. Wouldn’t the world be filled with much sweeter music if musicians – and pipers – could play the music they pleased?

The same thing happens in bands, of course, but bands are not democracies. A talk for another day.


PS. You should be able to listen to this show by podcast. Have a listen.

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