I had a good lesson last night....
Mark and I spent an hour working on Berio's Sequenza IX and Christian Lauba's Prelude to Vertigo (a multiphonic funky groove!). I walked out of the lesson thinking "Now I'm finally playing some real GRADUATE LEVEL lit!".
What makes this grad level literature? Sure each work is challenging for various reasons but is it something that requires a piece of paper from a University stating that I'm worthy to delve into these works? Are these pieces actually more challenging than other saxophone works by, say, Ibert and Ingolf Dahl or are they just different?
Who awoke one morning and decided that Lauba and Berio only wrote pieces for grad level and above?
I think this is a mentality that I'm slowly see change in some studios
(Hey guys, I think the thoughts about mindset here are appropriate for every instrument but I'm a saxophonist so I'm going to use saxophone stuff to make my points, sorry.)
So, back in the 1960s the saxophone virtuoso, guru, Supreme Leader of the Jedi Council Donald "The Don" Sinta released the album American Music. It was, and still is, one of the 'gold standard' recordings for classical saxophone. It's sort of the Kind of Blue of the genre...it should be one of the first in a saxophonist's collection.
....but let's talk about what's on the album...
On this recording you had THE high level saxophone/piano lit of the mid 20th century; works by Paul Creston, Bernard Heiden, Warren Benson, Walter Hartley.....this was, for the time, grad level.
Now, high school kids play the pieces....WELL.
What changed? Well, I think for starters, we got more people teaching the saxophone at a high level. The second point, however, is I think the more important part...
WE FORGOT TO TELL THE KIDS THAT THIS MUSIC IS HARD!!!
If you don't instill a 'Oh man this is going to be hard' mindset in a student and instead instill a 'Man, a new piece! This is cool!' mindset, how much more could they accomplish?
A good example involves a couple current freshmen at Arizona State. Dr. Chris Creviston brought in Matt and Tina this year and they are already tearing it up. Matt has already performed Edison Denisov's Sonata and Tina, by all accounts, is absolutely killin on John Anthony Lennon's Distances Within Me. Now, these are 'traditionally' hurdles for grad school students and they are being handled well by a couple of kids who just a few months ago were in high school. Do you think Dr. Creviston assigned these pieces and then said 'Just so you know, these are ridiculously hard and only grad students should play them.' ? More likely he assigned them and said 'Get it done!'.
Another example is one of my professor's own students; Philip. Philip is currently a high school senior and I recently heard him perform one of the two 'heavy' pieces from my senior recital; Yoshimatsu's Fuzzy Bird Sonata. Do you think at any point Mark said 'Yeah, this is for seniors in college!'?
What's the point? Well, perhaps....just perhaps....a lot of what's considered 'this level' or 'that level' as far as music literature has to do with stigmas and old mindsets.
Don't let someone else's mindset interfere with your goals. Challenge yourself. Get the chops and play the lit.
Get it done.