I think I am a “generalist,” “a jack of all trades, master of none.” I am interested in the “big picture” and like to brainstorm ideas that connect stuff in ways I haven’t thought of.
I am thinking about this because once again I am putting myself on the line with a bit of classical performance this week. I am a trained organist, harpsichordist and pianist. Of these three I have had the least formal training on piano.
I trace my training to the two or three years I spent with Richard Strasburg at Ohio Weslyan. I moved there with my first wife and son to study composition. I studied piano to make the entrance exams.
Strasburg was a student of Rosina Lhevinne. His pedagogy was impeccable and engaging. I have spent the many years since applying what he taught me in those few years. I have had much more training on organ and harpsichord.
So of course this week I am playing a piano part to the Mendelssohn trio that has been challenging to learn.
Last year I gave an organ recital that stretched me, learning new material that wasn’t easy for me.
I like doing this. I like taking the risk and reaching for an exciting performance.
And I have loved working with two good string players. My trio meets about once a week and we have developed a good beginning at ensemble. It’s time to air it.
This kind of performing is a lot like walking a tight rope for me.
I can do it. But I have to keep my balance and focus. My teacher, Craig Cramer, who is a world renowned performer, told me once that every time he plays in public he “goes up against the wall.”
He has tons more technique than I do, but I do the same thing especially with difficult (for me) classical music.
I said I was a generalist. By this I mean that I love doing music in many ways. I love composing. I love improvising. I love the Baroque harpsichord literature and can probably play this stuff better than anything else I do. I love piano music and play through and rehearse it constantly. I love playing the organ. I don’t love all the literature that most classical organists love. I mostly like th organ music of tthe Baroque, pre-Baroque and some of the music written in the last 5 or 6 decades (with an emphasis on dissonant music and more recent new and original music).
I also enjoy church work. I could take it or leave it, but it has provided me with a living in my life. I am interested in hymnody and I passionately love spirituals and gospel.
I compare this to musicians I have known who seem to have a highly specialized approach to their love of music and any one area of my many interests could (and does) provide them with enough for a lifetime.
But like I say, I’m a generalist. And I like being a generalist. I like the insights that hit me from this perspective. Like the relationship of jazz theory pedagogy to the many incarnations of classical music theory pedagogy.
Being a generalist is common (I think) in composers. When I examine historical music (mostly but not all classical), I can see the wide influences that are present in the works of master composers like Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart.
It’s like the novelists who attract me. They bring a wide perspective and sense of the world and living to the story. This enlarges me as I read it and I gain perspective and satisfaction and am challenged.
But enough about me. Ahem.