Play It Again

I love playing music. And I have lots of ways to do it. Too many, really.

I can play the piano if I like. (I have a very nice six-foot grand in my living room. I keep it well tuned and regulated.) I can compose my own music and record it into my computer using a fantastic array of music software. And of course I play the cello every day.

But the day is not long enough to do everything I might want to do, so I have to pick and choose.

My head is telling me that composing and recording my own music is a more noble, worthwhile activity than playing the piano. It’s creative, you see. I’m actually bringing something unique and personal into the world. Plus, when recording into the computer I can take the time to make the music sound as good as it possibly can.

When I play the piano, I’m not creating anything. I’m just playing music written a couple of hundred years ago by Bach, Haydn, and Chopin. And my playing is of such marginal quality that nobody (other than my mom) would ever want to listen to it. So I’m not contributing anything to the world, I’m just amusing myself, and it doesn’t always sound very good.

And yet … when I sit down to create music in the computer, I usually end up feeling frustrated and discontent. After starting a new piece, I find myself wanting to avoid it. But something keeps pulling me back to the piano.

Introspection is a good way to get a handle on situations like this. After thinking about it for a while, I’ve realized two or three things.

First, when I play piano, the music is better. Bach and Haydn are much, much better composers than I’ll ever be. Okay, they’re a little old-fashioned; I can do hipper jazz voicings and syncopations. But their music is consistently satisfying. Mine isn’t.

Second, the process is very different. Playing the piano requires intense moment-to-moment concentration while you’re doing it. You’re in the process. Composing and recording into a computer involves a lot of backtracking, fiddling with data, listening, thinking, and so forth. It’s not a real-time activity (except in the sense that everything is a real-time activity).

Third, when I finish a piece in the computer, I’m done with it. I can set it aside. In fact, there’s not much I can do with it other than set it aside. I might listen to it once in a while, but when I do that, I’m experiencing it in a passive way, pretty much the way anybody else would experience it. When I learn a piano piece, on the other hand, I can keep experiencing it in a direct, satisfying way over and over and over again. The experience remains essentially the same, though it may grow and change over time.

I’m not giving up on computer-based music, not by a long shot. But today I’m willing to look at questions like this from all sides, without trying to force myself to come to any particular conclusion.

It’s all about the quality of the experience you’re having. That’s all it could ever be about.

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1 Response to Play It Again

  1. Riccardo says:

    I’m there with you on the topic.

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