Interpretative Individuality

In the previous studio post (“Learning Unknown Works”) I warned about a likely outcome of hearing pieces before learning them, which is copying other people’s interpretations. For this post, I’d like to draw attention to something that might seem the opposite: we should not be concerned if our interpretation of a piece happens to resemble that of another guitarist, as long as it is the product of our work, and not based on that somebody else’s interpretation. In other words, as long as we put the composer and the work first–and if our goal is some sort of artistic honesty–we should not modify our final interpretation just because it sounds similar to that of other guitarists.

I don’t believe that there is an ultimate way of playing any given piece, but I do believe that there are margins of objectivity; by following the score, and supported by stylistic and/or historical information, we can picture how the composer wanted the work to sound with a fair level of certainty and confidence. That is what should guide us when working on our interpretations.

Many times, doing something different in a piece becomes a priority. We assume that that is a fair way to stand out from the rest. But our role as musicians should never be to try to be different from others. Thinking on the lines of “what can I do differently here?” or “I’ll play this section like this, because no one else does it so” puts us in the wrong state of mind as artists. Instead, we should ask ourselves “how did the composer want this section to sound?” or “what works best in this section for the piece as a whole?” These questions anchor us in the role we should embody, that of a translator between the composer and the audience.

Such a posture does not curtail our artistic individuality in the least. Consciously or not, we always add our own conspicuous “personality” to the music, for each of us have our way of phrasing, tone, technical abilities, mannerisms, etc. In trying to perform a piece in a way that conveys what the composer wanted, we naturally–and unavoidably–add a lot of our own. We should never lose sight of this fact. Building interpretations on the premise of doing something different from the rest is not honest to the composers and their music.