Freeing Our “Musical” David

Perhaps my favorite work of non-musical art is David by Michelangelo.  It has been my good fortune to view this magnificent 17 foot sculpture on three separate occasions in the Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy.  The slab of marble from which Michelangelo created the masterpiece had already received several attempts by various sculptors who found the assignment too daunting.  When Michelangelo was hired in 1501 to complete the project he encountered a somewhat ruined slab of marble, but what he “saw” in that stone was the masterpiece we view today.  He suggested that David was already in the marble and all that was needed for him to do was to chip away what was not David.

I think we should sometimes take more of Michelangelo’s approach when learning a new piece of music.  It is very easy for us to become consumed with what we must “master” in preparing a score:  difficult rhythms; foreign languages; challenging musical intervals; breathing and phrasing issues; and the list goes on and on.  It can become quite overwhelming at times when we are faced with so much that needs to be accomplished.  Why not just envision and hear the music in our hearts and minds the way it should ultimately be sung?  We should believe the optimum performance exists within us and all that is standing in its way needs only to be “chipped” away, just as Michelangelo did with his David.  Getting rid of the wrong notes, rhythms, mispronunciations, etc., will leave us with the beauty of the composer’s creation.  I remember Robert Shaw saying the following to his chorus on more than one occasion, “You know, it’s just as easy to sing what the composer put on the page as what you’re doing now.  Why don’t we make things easier for ourselves and just do that?” As was often the case, there was much wisdom in his pithy statement.

Now, I’m not saying this approach is easy.  After all, while Michelangelo might have immediately seen his David in that slab of marble, it still took him over two years to chip away what wasn’t David!  Personally, I just like the idea of believing that a perfect (or near perfect) performance of a piece of music is right there before us.  All we need to do is chip away that which is getting in its way.

Showing 3 comments
  • Felton Dunn

    Nicely put–do we have the vision of a Michelangelo to determine what belongs and what doesn’t, and the wherewithal to make that happen? Sounds like a substantial challenge, though worthwhile.

  • Dan Pfeffer

    So true Michael! I remember when we were learning the Brahm’s Requiem 2 years ago. All the accidentals in the score were just not intuitive to this tenor and it was challenging to learn. But after listening to the ASO recording, I knew this would be worth the hard work we put into it. The result was a magnificent performance by MOS (and now one of my all time favorite choral works). So when we face challenging new music ( like the Britten’s Rejoice In the Lamb), I remember how the Brahm’s turned out and I keep on working hard at it.

  • Cookie Stokes-Preuss

    Beautiful comment on your part! Many thanks,

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