Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Art of Choking

My musical month has revolved around events common to many of us, not least the Jubilee celebrations. There have also been the usual assortment of more personal experiences, one or two of which I'd like to share now. A couple of radio items caught my ear. The first was a "Thought For The Day" considering the amount of training and concentrated effort that goes into making a top athlete. Even with everything in place, it sometimes happens that an athlete will then "choke" on the day, will lose focus, rhythm, concentration. The reason may be simply trying too hard, allowing the chattering uncertainties of the mind to get in the way of the body's instinctive ability, programmed in by long months of training.  Now simply substitute "music" for "athletics" and "practice" for "training" and the equivalence is complete. The solution to choking, according to "Thought For The Day", is to let go and allow an inner grace to hold sway.

The athletic theme was taken up by another R4 programme describing how athletes use music as an integral part of training, for warming up, for working out and for event preparation. Rhythm plays a major part in this, the magic 120-140 beats per minute holding the key.  Red Bull have this year sponsored the composition of a piece of music written, or should I say designed, for all the different components in the training and performance potential of one of our top Olympic athletes.

This is hi-tec and cutting edge so it was something of a relief for me to discover another musical gem of good advice tucked away in an old music magazine that I stumbled across. The Violinists' Gazette of October 1934, Price Fourpence contains advertisements for such things as "Rare Old Violins, such as the 'Old Saxon' made in about 1880, for sale at £5 0s 0p." Full of fascinating stuff, a little article, called "Enjoy Music" was penned by one Charles Woodhouse, familiar to my orchestral colleagues.  I quote:

"Charles Woodhouse, leader of the Queens Hall Promenade Concerts for many years, when adjudicating at the School Orchestra and Junior Band Festival in June, was interesting and helpful to the crowd of youngsters taking part in string orchestra competitions.

"... 'I know a man who has been playing in an amateur quartette for fifty years - and he does not play at all well - but he enjoys it. He does it for a hobby, and I am certain he gets far more pleasure out of it than capable professional players like Kreisler.

"'... I do not mean that the worse you play, the more you will like it, but if you take up music as a hobby you will find it a splendid subject and one which you will like more and more as time goes on.'"

With just one more addition, that completes my little musical pot pourri for the month: last weekend, I noticed I'd completely missed that one of my favourite authors, Peter Ackroyd, has a novel called English Music, and I am currently listening out for the clunk of it dropping through my letter box. That pernicious buy-with-one-click button on Amazon can be irresistible, especially on a Saturday evening after a couple of glasses of wine.  I did try hard to resist, but then choked.

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