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Modernizing Practice Paradigms for New Music

Periodization Theory and Peak Performance Exemplified Through Extended Techniques


Jennifer Borkowski

The author examines how new music scores with extended playing techniques call for new practice structures. YouTube access to basic instructional videos and the streaming of sound files allows musicians today to learn easily and independently. Yet, the trailblazers in new music tackled new scores without these aids; they used imagination, experimentation and tenacity. Conscious use of both learning modalities can augment ideas of practice and performance preparation; expanding new music’s reach while preserving its fire. Practice is differentiated between the quick learning for an upcoming performance and the transformative learning that new music offers. Periodization theory from sport science provides a pedagogical framework for building both mental and physical stamina leading to peak performance.
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III. A Work Ethic Against Mediocrity


III.   A Work Ethic Against Mediocrity

The effort that is required to grasp new music is not one of abstract knowledge, nor is it the acquaintance with some system or other, with theorems, much less with mathematical procedures. It is essentially imagination, what Kierkegaard called the speculative ear.18

Søren Kierkegaard’s reference is made about dualities of emotion. Music, however, need not remain in mere dualities. In order to perform Brian Ferneyhough’s music, one does indeed require knowledge of mathematical procedures. Ferneyhough remarks that music “is not based on an exclusive ‘either-or’ but a ‘both-and.’”19 The speculative ear, however, is a vivid idea that speaks to how we listen. We can differentiate between how we listen, how we actively interpret a piece of music that we intend to perform and how we coax an audience to listen. Must listeners comprehend music before it is appreciated? Comprehension is an act of the mind. Appreciation takes place when the listener is personally engaged.

New music’s circle is notoriously small. We tend to think that new music is for the intellectual musician only. However,

Adorno asserts that to grasp modern music what is needed is essentially fantasy […] He points out the ways in which […] subjective capacity that would enable individuals to grasp modern music, i.e. the speculative ear and appropriate ways of paying attention or concentrating, are made difficult by that society’s life conditions.20

Now we are even more distracted than when...

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