Drawing from their own experiences as conductors, composers, producers, and teachers, musical collaborators James Jordan and James Whitbourn bring the importance of trust to the forefront in this exploration, examining the many facets of this often mysterious quality within an individual and an ensemble context both. Among the topics the authors discuss are the building of trust among musicians; whether trust has a sound in individuals and ensembles; the gestures of a conductor that can inadvertently breed mistrust; trusting in one’s own musical judgments; and trust within an ensemble. This insightful book clarifies and celebrates the central role trust plays in musicianship and closes with a probing essay on the nature of stillness by Donald Sheehan.
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About the Author
James Jordan is a professor and the senior conductor at Westminster Choir College of Rider University. He is the author of several books on the philosophy of music making and choral teaching, including The Musician’s Breath, The Musician’s Spirit, and The Musician’s Walk, and the executive editor of the Evoking Sound Choral Series from GIA Publications. He has led workshops for divisional and national meetings of the American Choral Directors Association, the Canadian Choral Directors Association, and the Music Teachers National Association, among others. He was named to the choral panel for the National Endowment for the Arts in 2009. He lives in Yardley, Pennsylvania. James Whitbourn is an award-winning and Grammy-nominated composer internationally renowned for his choral compositions and works for the concert hall and screen.
Read an Excerpt
The Musician's Trust
By James Jordan, James Whitbourn, Donald Sheehan
GIA Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2013 GIA Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The soul wants truth, not trivia. So if the space between us is to welcome the soul, it must be a space in which truth can be told. Our ability to create and protect such a space depends on how well we understand the assumptions about truth — and the way truth emerges among us — that form the foundations of a circle of trust. (p. 126)
— Parker Palmer in A Hidden Wholeness
The human understanding is not composed of dry light, but is subject to influence from the will and the emotions, a fact that creates fanciful knowledge; man prefers to believe what he wants to be true. (p. 44)
— Francis Bacon in The New Organon
When your being is right, the doing will take care of itself.
— Elaine Brown Alumni Lecture at Westminster Choir College March 1989
It has been my experience that deep understandings occur in a blinding flash. They are almost always serendipitous by-products of heightened awareness and a desire to do something bigger than you. These events are never sought after, but invade your consciousness like a thunderbolt. This book was ignited by such an event.
I was in a rather intense set of recording sessions over several long evenings with The Westminster Williamson Voices. We were recording a project that had been my dream for many years: to record the "Son of God Mass" and other music by James Whitbourn. For some reason, I believed this choir was the choir that needed to do this project. In another way of speaking, this is the group of people with whom I so wanted to make this journey. So in many ways, there was a "built-in" connection among us. Months of preparation and work led us to these recording sessions. Connection was certainly a part of our regular rehearsal process. In fact, we even had special workshops on the use of breath to form both connection and "trust." I think it is ironic that in those workshops with my colleague, Nova Thomas, I heard the word "connection," but for some reason the word "trust" was relegated in my mind and consciousness to a secondary position.
Whitbourn's music, by its very nature, somehow creates a connection with what we want to do as artists — that is, to take a journey and craft an honest music message. I believed we were on that path. I was conscious through the entire process of wanting connection at every turn, both through what I did as a conductor and teacher, and with my breath.
We had two highly successful evenings of recording. We were into about two hours of our third session when "the event" happened. That evening, our job was to do some patches. For this recording, we experienced a unique situation in which the composer was also the producer of the recording. Going into the session that evening, there were several spots we needed to cover; the list was actually shorter than I had anticipated. But it was a list, nonetheless. And the patches on the list were musical details of the highest degree. As we worked on one patch after another, I began to feel as if "we" were not making progress and working efficiently as I had hoped. Let me just say that the difficulty of some of the passages to get them "just right" would slow any ensemble. I felt my role was to hasten the process along by pressing the pace between takes a bit and to "maintain focus."
So along came what Oprah Winfrey calls an "aha!" moment. Our producer/ composer asked if he could come out of the booth and speak with the choir. Before doing this, he spoke with me privately. The conversation, between friends, went this way.
Whitbourn: "There is something happening; the sound has changed."
I must tell you that this statement hit me like a ton of bricks, a punch to the gut.
I replied, "Really."
Whitbourn looks at me, and eye to eye, says, "Yes."
"The choir is losing the sweetness and the beauty we have captured the past two evenings and part of this one."
I replied (almost numb at this point), "Really."
I swallowed my pride and asked, "Is it me?"
Whitbourn replied, "I don't know ...you'll have to figure that out. Seems like the ensemble is losing trust."
I asked him, "Could you talk to the choir?"
We turned toward the choir, but before I did, I turned away because I needed a second to pull myself together as, in a flash, I replayed the last half hour in my head. In that flash, I realized that in my attempt to make them "sing better," my insistent energy had, in fact, done the opposite. That energy was read as mistrust and risked all that we believed for months we could do.
James Whitbourn, in talking with the choir, simply (and honestly) said that somehow we were not trusting each other as we had. Through talking about trust, he was really alluding to the fact that the lack of trust was fracturing the sound of the ensemble. In truth, the fault for all of this rested primarily on my shoulders. I knew it, and I had a sneaking suspicion that they did, too.
After James Whitbourn had talked to the ensemble, I asked the choir, even though I knew the answer.
"Is it me?" I asked.
They all nodded yes.
That was one of those deeply humbling moments that re-defines what you do as a conductor, and also reminds you that conducting does one of two things: it either causes people to sing or it doesn't. For a brief period that evening, I was the root cause of the reduced lack of beauty and spontaneity in the sound. One of the lessons I learned that evening is that connection does not ensure a great performance, but trust certainly does.CHAPTER 2
A Musician's Understanding of Trust
I want to say at the outset that trust is not some nebulous concept or some loose form of hopefulness. Trust is utterly robust and heavily based on science. Science tells us every day whether or not to trust: every time we walk into a building, we trust that the architects and builders have done their jobs correctly and that the building will not collapse on us. It is such a deep-rooted trust that we do not even stop to think about it. We use our knowledge and our instincts and, crucially, our experience to build trust over time. Many of us who are parents may have seen our children lacking in trust of some experience that we now regard as an everyday occurrence. In time, the trust develops as experience bears out a lack of danger or a consistently favorable result. Trust has to be earned.
For musicians, it is no different, and it seeps into every area of professional life from the most basic (Will they turn up on time?) to the most advanced (Will they sing or play like an angel?) But at every level, it has to be earned. The musician who fails to come to rehearsals, recording sessions, or performances on time will quickly lose all trust and will have a very short career. The same will happen to those who come unprepared. Trust is built from a profile of behavior that happens over a period of time and forms a picture that becomes embedded into the minds of musical colleagues. I have taken some negative examples, but the positive equivalents are equally compelling.
I have been fortunate enough in my professional career to work with some of the musicians who are rightly regarded as being at the top of their game. I have encountered some of them within my work for film and television, the music for which is often recorded by some of the most talented session players you will ever meet. With such incredible talent at their disposal, I was surprised when I first started directing sessions to find that all of the very best players would arrive at the studio about an hour early. They would usually come into the studio, set up their instruments, and ask to look at the music. When they were satisfied that everything was set, they would go for coffee. I always found this a reassuring ritual: I knew that they were very close, that I need not worry about someone not showing up. This extra mile always contributed to an easy atmosphere of music making, and I knew that not one second of session time would be wasted. More to the point, so did the other players. Their promptness was not only out of respect to me, but just as much — or more — for the other session players booked. No one ever wanted to let down their fellow musicians — or, as they would see it, let down the musical profession.
I have a relation who was for many years one of the world's top horn players. You can hear him on scores of important soundtracks over many years. Even as he approached the final years of his career, he told me he still practiced for three hours a day when he wasn't at sessions to keep his lip and fingers supple. "You never know what you might be faced with tomorrow," he once told me. He always wanted to be prepared for anything.
This pride in professional excellence among excellent professionals is something that I find infectious and inspiring. It shows that you have to work to get to the top, and then when you are at the top, you have to work even harder! No one wants to be the subject of even a jovial quip among the community of professionals, and it is a matter of enormous personal pride that they can be trusted among their peers. The trust I experience at those sessions is so strong that it is almost tangible. I can feel the need to perform not only to the microphone but to each other.
I remember talking to a friend who was an airline pilot, and we were comparing notes about our respective professions. "My job is just like yours," he said. "Every flight is a performance." "Who is the audience?" I asked. "Oh, the crew," he said. I had never thought about the professional pride that would be engendered within that small team, but then, of course, it became obvious. There was even competitiveness about being the most trustworthy, whether it was the best landing or the closest intonation. To my mind, it was a healthy competitiveness that I found in the studio because it was the kind that encouraged musicians to revel in and respond to each other's talent — perhaps even marvel at it. There is nothing wrong with that. Musicians are performers, and it is fine for them to perform to one another as well as to their "official" audience. I noticed also a distinction between personal friendship and professional respect. Sometimes, of course, the musicians were personal friends, but often they were not. I found that once in session, the professional took priority over the personal.
Being with these types of musicians has taught me a lot about what it means to trust one another, and it showed me how high the bar is set. Trust is the result of daily hard work. It can be lost as well as gained, and it is quicker to lose it than to gain it. Trust is the lifeblood of many professions, but for musicians it is essential. It is something to be worked at and guarded closely once earned. It is your entry card into the musical world.CHAPTER 3
The work Before the Work
The human spirit (in its different dispositions in different men) is a variable thing, quite irregular, almost haphazard. Heraclitus well said that men seek knowledge in lesser, private worlds, not in the great or common world. (p. 41)
— Francis Bacon in The New Organon
Ben Britten was a man at odds with the world. It's strange, because on the surface Britten's music would seem to be decorative, positive, charming, but it's so much more than that. When you hear Britten's music, if you really hear it, not just listen to it superficially, you become aware of something very dark. There are gears that are grinding and not quite meshing, and they make a great pain. (p. 637)
— Leonard Bernstein in Humphrey Carpenter, Benjamin Britten: A Biography
Remember the words of the poet: Tears are not made by sadness, but by the miracle of the right word in the right place. (p. 66)
DO NOTHING FOR EFFECT. Do it for truth. (p. 71) — Nadia Boulanger in Don G. Campbell, Master Teacher: Nadia Boulanger
We should not think of plays or poetry or paintings as attempting to capture life in the manner of a physician or a reporter. Rather, we should think of works of art as capturing some aspect of life, the world, the human condition, in a way that is effective and powerful and (as I'll argue) beautiful — even if the particular vehicles happen to have been contrived or invented out of whole cloth. I resonate with the words of Pablo Picasso: "We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given to us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies." (p. 34)
— Howard Gardner in Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed
There is an explanation for all this, but it is not, I believe, that our students are heedless of soulful matters. In fact, today's undergraduates are closer to the things of the soul than were students in my generation. Traditional students today (to say nothing of their non-traditional peers), are much more likely than we were to have had profoundly soul- challenging experiences by their late teens or early twenties: divorce, the suicide or murder of an acquaintance or friend, substance abuse as a way of dealing with chaos and despair, grim prospects for future employment, etc.
So why do they resist addressing spiritual issues in the classroom? First, our students are told from an early age that school is not the place to bring their questions of meaning: take them home, to your religious community or to your therapist, but do not bring them to school. So students learn, as a matter of survival, to keep their hearts hidden when in the groves of academe. It is no wonder that they become distrustful, even frightened, when some teacher suddenly changes the rules and asks them to wear their hearts on their sleeves.
But I am equally passionate about not violating the deepest needs of the human soul, which education does with some regularity. I have seen the price we pay for a system of education so fearful of soulful things that it fails to address the real issues of our lives, dispensing data at the expense of meaning, facts at the expense of wisdom. The price is a schooling that alienates and dulls us, that graduates people who have had no mentoring in the questions that both vex and enliven the human spirit, people who are spiritually empty at best and spiritually toxic at worst.
— Parker Palmer in "Teaching with Heart and Soul: Reflections on Spirituality" from Journal of Teacher Education
There is common ground in the statements above that deserves both heed and deep examination by musicians. I have become deeply frustrated by my own personal ability to guide students toward the inner miracles of the score. Whether you are a performer or a conductor/teacher, this malady seems to affect many, and this malaise often determines the difference between fine music making and musicing that deeply touches the soul. I do know that "soul teaching" is the hardest thing we do in teaching musicians. I also know that it is the thing we unconsciously avoid. We try every route inside with our students, but we somehow have the steps of the process wrong — with them and many times with ourselves. Since the subject of this book is trust, it is important to determine some linkage between trust among and between musicians and the messages contained in the score.
Wearing the Disguise of Technique
Knowing how to teach brings both strengths and weaknesses to our musicing, and I believe that technique can build a virtually impenetrable wall if it is not pursued after deep inward journeys with the score. Technique is the performer's or conductor's comfort food. We feel good because it provides us with a sense of security that disguises itself in our spirit and psyche as "understanding the score." But understanding the score is not deeply living with the score. Living with the score must, on some level, precede the mastery of the score itself and the teaching of its mechanics of pitch, rhythm, dynamics, diction, articulation, etc.
Excerpted from The Musician's Trust by James Jordan, James Whitbourn, Donald Sheehan. Copyright © 2013 GIA Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of GIA Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsPrologue: Writing from Two Sides James Jordan,
Prologue: Connection and Trust James Whitbourn,
Preface James Jordan,
Introduction James Jordan,
Introduction James Whitbourn,
Part One — Philosophical Necessities —,
Chapter 1 James Jordan The Beginning,
Chapter 2 James Whitbourn A Musician's Understanding of Trust,
Chapter 3 James Jordan The work Before the Work,
Chapter 4 James Jordan Finding a Deeper Meaning: Growing Downward, Deepening First,
Chapter 5 James Jordan Trust as an Internal Mechanism: Trust and Truth as Synonyms?,
Chapter 6 James Jordan The Foundation of Trust: Humility and Artistic Voice,
Chapter 7 James Jordan What Does Trust Sound Like?,
Chapter 8 James Jordan The Silence Between Phrases: Exploring a Re-Languaged Rehearsal,
Chapter 9 James Jordan Non-Verbal Embodying of Mistrust,
Part Two — Preparing for Performance —,
Chapter 10 James Whitbourn Trusting the Composer,
Chapter 11 James Whitbourn Trusting Your Own Judgment,
Chapter 12 James Whitbourn Trusting the Conductor,
Part Three — In Performance —,
Chapter 13 James Whitbourn Trusting Your Own Technique,
Chapter 14 James Whitbourn Trusting Each Other,
Chapter 15 James Whitbourn Trusting the Audience,
Chapter 16 James Whitbourn The Conductor's Trust of the Musicians,
Part Four — The Importance of the Self —,
Chapter 17 James Jordan It Is About Giving,
Chapter 18 James Jordan The Empowerment of Self: Community Deeply Embedded,
Chapter 19 James Jordan Toward an Understanding of Mutuality: Avoiding,
Epilogue James Whitbourn,
About the Authors,