Pete's Blog

"Bend Your Knees!"

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Believe it or not, we were a fairly athletic family when I was growing up. We especially went for winter sports, not that we had much choice. We lived in Erie, Pennsylvania, conveniently located on the south shore of Lake Erie, a large flat surface designed to accelerate Canadian weather systems. Winter doesn't flirt in Erie, Pennsylvania. It greets you at the door wearing nothing but Saran Wrap and devises new and ever more passionate ways to hold on to you for the better part of eight months. So we skied. We skated. And these slippery sports taught me about music in ways I'm only now beginning to understand. When newly on a pair of skis, feeling them move more or less of their own volition and usually down a hill that looks steeper than it did a moment ago, a child's first reaction is to stand up very straight and hold his arms out in a quest for greater wind-resistance. My father's advice was simple - "Bend your knees!" - and it worked. I could feel my center of gravity lower, feel the sickening top-heaviness go away, feel myself bouncing around corners. On skis or skates I was imperfect but serviceable. When things go wrong in a musical performance, as they always do, inexperienced performers who still believe in perfection tend to lock their metaphorical knees, retreating into themselves searching for the moment where it all went wrong so that when they find it they can begin the process again, correctly this time. The equivalent to "Bend your knees!" is what I say to students over and over: "Listen!" What you want to do when there has been some sort of train wreck between you and the other musicians is not to go back but to move forward, so you can all meet up at some point further along in the score. The passage, now safely behind you, may even turn out to have been rather special, in a terrifying sort of way. But it has no chance of being ANYTHING if you don't do what you can to put it behind you. Open your eyes, look around, hear what the others are playing (this works if you're by yourself, too), and accommodate yourselves to it. Then, there you are. Nobody got hurt. The composer might have a migraine but he would have had one anyway. Bend your knees. Lower your center. Move through. Listen. There you are.

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