A Commitment to Sound 2: Finding a Voice

One of the most natural parts of us is our speaking and singing voice. We shape our phrases and intonation to match the mood and express ourselves in speech. Most importantly, we do this totally subconsciously.

To find our voice in playing an instrument means developing an awareness that playing a piece of material, such as wood or metal, is not inherently natural. It is incredibly difficult to develop a sound on our instrument without the influence of our voices to guide the way.

My journey with sound so far has shown me how musical phrases sometimes hold words, gestures and articulations that can be first explored with the voice as the voice has a natural sense of phrasing. Often I have sung a phrase I’m working on and suddenly become aware of bowings and phrasing I have been adopting that make no sense in the context of the voice.

This sense of awareness through the use of the voice is such a valuable tool and makes our sound much more personal. We are developing our own ‘accent’ in a sense, just as actors have arresting voices we strive to develop an arresting sound as our voice between the composer and audience.

My voice is a part of me I am so familiar with and it is wonderful how much it is starting to teach me about my sound!

A Commitment to Sound 1- Motivated by What?

This series shows the ups and downs of me having made a commitment to sound. I have spent many years studying the cello, but very little time has been dedicated to the sound I create and how I create it. Because of this I want to make sound, and not success, my new obsession.

The aspect of this new venture that I am finding most challenging is that I am not always sure what sound I actually want to create. It’s very easy to tune out and get away with a very average sound, especially in the practice room.

I know that my ability to push for a great sound is there because as soon as I am under pressure my critical voice works overtime. It is in my cello lessons, or when someone is listening to me practice, that some of the greatest sound work is done. This is both because my teacher is always pushing for a wonderful sound, but also because suddenly I am being observed. When we start to work on the repertoire have bought I can’t help but hear all the unevenness, the intonation issues and the lumpy phrasing. I am suddenly very frustrated, hyper aware and am striving for better.

If only this constructive and critical voice were more present in my practice. I am happy with less in practice because there is no one watching me, and therefore (admittedly) no one to impress?! The sound commitment I have made is purely for a deeper connection with music through the sound I am creating. Through this I should be trying to impress myself with a wonderful sound and not only motivated towards it in the presence of others.

I have tried to take the music I am playing, maybe also the composer, and imagining them observing my practice. I am asking them questions about how their piece should sound, what type of vibrato to use and how to achieve this. The benefit of this is that the sound motivation has changed from being success and validation to being for the music itself and living up to the expectation the composers had of their piece.

It has also been interesting to record my practice and imagine teaching myself. As a response to recording, so much of the sound work I have done so far has been focused on releasing tension that is obstructing the freedom I am searching for. I often move a great deal when I play, especially when performing, but once relaxed I observe that the emotion in the sound is a result of freedom and not tension.

Sound is such a huge concept and highly personal also. It is proving a tough commitment to have made but one full of much more life and motivation.

A Commitment to Sound

It has been unnervingly easy to go about living, practicing and exploring music without really listening to what I create. I have become complacent, getting by with what is ‘good enough’ and what might sound impressive. My practice has become a frustrating mass of confusion towards a foggy goal of ‘perfect’. Unaware of what I want to achieve, hours per day has become a reassurance that I must be improving. I must be achieving things because I am working hard.

Practice is the bones of creating wonderful music, but what is the use of it if we don’t know what we want to hear? I was about to go to bed a few nights ago when suddenly I decided that I’d had enough of this mediocrity and the rut i’d got into. The many composers whose music I worship and study deserve better. I sat down and wrote ‘I have made a commitment to sound’ in my diary. I commitment not to 7+ hours a day of practice, not to the next award or to proving myself against other musicians. I have made a commitment to, well, the music really and a desire to play it as it needs to be heard.

A ‘nice enough’ sound is not enough to sustain me anymore. There’s no going back from here which is exciting. I am going to use my practice to explore sound and the spirit within the composers bursting to come out. Playing the cello isn’t a sport anymore, I am going to start listening and loving otherwise I see very little point.

I am going to use my blog to share my sound journey with short videos and a raw honesty of how I’m feeling and how my practice is going. I anticipate that this journey is not going to be quick, but with the sound and music now at the centre I am looking to a direction and greater understanding of music.

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