Many years ago, one of my students at the Moskvorechye Jazz Studio, a highly respected classical music theorist, asked me a question: “What do you think constitutes a brilliant performance of a piece of music? Isn’t it following the author’s intent and the author’s instructions precisely, and performing flawlessly, in terms of technique?”
In those days, when I was in the Soviet Union, and obliged to adhere to a materialistic worldview in my answers, I could only meaningfully say, “You are absolutely right, but apart from that there is something else.
Now I would answer like this:
“A brilliant performance is when the Creator moves the performer’s bow.”
But then the question immediately arises: “What does the performer have to do, what does he have to be, for the Creator to take it upon himself to move his bow?”
First of all, the performer himself must want to come into contact with the Creator. Not all talented people think of this.
Then, it is desirable to develop sensitivity to signs from Above, because nowadays it is possible to see and feel His manifestations in seemingly imperceptible little things, in barely perceptible touches.
Finally, the performer must have the knowledge and skills sufficient to translate these little things and touches into live music. Of these three problems, the last two are the subject of musical pedagogy, and we will consider them in more detail.
Means of musical expression can be divided into two groups: macro-means (elements of musical macrolanguage) and micro-means (elements of micro-language).
Macrolanguage is the sounds (C, D, E, etc.), their durations, as well as their various combinations that form the actual fabric of copyright free music. This also includes the means of dynamic expression (loudness of sounds and their changes) and agogic (tempos and their changes).
All elements of the macrolanguage have their own clear and unambiguous symbols, which form a system of musical notation. The elements of macro-language are visible, audible, comprehensible, and analyzable. The linguistic regularities of the macrolanguage are outlined in textbooks, reference books, pedagogical literature, and are taught in musical educational institutions – they are the subject of musical literacy.
Micro-language is, for example, non-random micro-variations of pitch within a few cents (1 semitone = 100 cents), used by the performer as a means of expression.
What this means: a performer (say, a vocalist or violinist) can hit a note absolutely precisely, or he can hit it a little higher or lower, but so insignificantly that no most sophisticated ear will accuse him of falsity. We can only speak about a certain “quality” of sound, about such its characteristics, which are difficult to express in words, as “sunny”, “brightness” or “transparency” or “languor”.
Another example of micro-linguistic means is micro-deviations of the beginning of sounds from their exact position.
For example, even fourths can be performed absolutely evenly, with “mathematical” precision in relation to the meter, or they can be performed with a small, a thousandth of a second, advance or lag. In either case, it is impossible to speak of a non-rhythmic performance; on the contrary, jazz musicians use these rhythmic microdeviations to create such a powerful effect as a sense of swing or “groove.
Micro-language forms the second, hidden plane of the music being performed, but its importance, its impact on the listener’s psyche is no less, and in many cases more, than the impact of macro-language.
Elements of micro-language have no clear and unambiguous designations, they are almost impossible to study and teach, remaining an area of natural abilities of a person – his talent. Teachers often say about mastering a micro-language: “You can’t teach it, G-d gave it to you or didn’t give it to you.
However, this is not entirely true. Still, the micro-means of musical expression, though with great difficulty, but amenable to scientific analysis. Accordingly, it is possible to build a methodology for teaching the means of micro-language, although this task is an order of magnitude more difficult than building a methodology for teaching macro-language.
But it is in this area that the teacher can help the genius of the performer manifest itself, for, as was said earlier,
The Creator speaks to the performer in a micro-language.