June 24, 2011

William Kanengiser masterclass notes, part 1

I was looking through an old notebook this morning and found notes I took at a masterclass William Kanengiser gave in San Jose, CA two or three years ago as part of the Suzuki convention. My notes were hastily written and not terribly detailed, but I'll use them to jog my memory and fill in what I can regarding topics that are generally applicable. Apologies if I've misinterpreted my memory from that far back, but I'll do the best I can. :)

The first student played Sor's Rondeau, opus 48 number 6, and in response Kanengiser made several suggestions about phrasing:

  • The shape of phrases follow the strength of the harmony. Harmonies are used for specific reasons, and especially so in classical period music like Sor's. There are some general rules, like when you have a dissonance resolving into a consonance, the (tense) dissonance should be louder than the consonance (release), but the deeper your understand of how this works, the easier it will be for you to give a mature interpretation of phrasing. This is all covered in depth on Chris Davis's website. 
  • Tension, release, surprise - This is related to the above. Consonance moving to dissonance and back create tension and release it, but be on the look out for sudden and significant changes of harmony. Many pieces change keys to break up the tonality, and we might want to change our tone color or dynamics somewhat to reflect the change. Sometimes we are given an unexpected chord quite suddenly - this is meant to give a sense of surprise and we should play that up. 
  • Crescendo - start soft enough to really get louder, to exaggerate the effect. Kanengiser suggested not just playing the section before the crescendo quieter, but dropping the volume at the beginning of a crescendo in order to give enough dynamic range to convey the effect and emphasize the new dynamic.
  • When playing bass notes, think like a bass player. It's often said that we should work on the lines in the music we play individually to shape them the way we want. I think Kanengiser wants us to go a step farther. How would a bassist articulate the bassline? For that matter, if you consider the "guitar as miniature orchestra" idea and you have section of music that suggests a brass section, how would the brass section in an orchestra articulate that?
  • After using rubato/decelerando, we need a strong sense of rhythm to pull us back into the pulse. 
  • When making big leaps, think like a singer - it should have a sense of arrival, not a frantic grab for what we hope might be the right note. 
This is getting longer than I expected, so I will continue with it next week. 

Big thanks to the Longay school for sponsoring the masterclass, the participants, and of course Kanengiser himself, who is a thoroughly gracious and inspiring teacher. I had the opportunity to play in a masterclass for him a few years prior, but unfortunately for me I was very sick at the time and not able to focus very well nor remember much of the experience. 

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