A friend of mine and I were discussing a musician colleague of his, and one of the third-party’s compositions. The runs up and down the scale are brilliant, but my friend does not do them as fast as some. He’s not trying to show off, but to be precise and do justice to the piece.
That led to mutters and grumbles about people who think that certain pieces *coughOrangeBlossemSpecialcough* are a race to get through. Especially some Baroque and classical compositions that are *coughWidorToccatacough* used as encores or to show off with. “You lose the power,” my friend sighed. I looked at my notes on the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and agreed. It’s not a race. You have to be steady and precise. Bach is not Brahms or Durufle, where you emote all over the place and can mess with the tempo. Baroque is different.
Then we switched to grumbling about weather changes and mileage. My friend lamented a composition that he’d played frequently in his younger days, but now required checking the forecast before attempting. Otherwise, his arthritis made it too painful and messed up his finger pressure on the instrument. He’s at the point where his physical ability has peaked and is starting to fade a little, even though his knowledge of his craft and its history is still growing. We come from different musical traditions and instruments, but I love listening to him talk about technique and styles, because I always learn something I can use on my own instrument(s). He thinks he’s got four or five more years left, then he will have to retire because his hands and neck will have reached the point of interfering too much with his craft. He’ll still play for his own pleasure, but not as a career.
I do several activities where smoothness has to come before speed. Keyboard music. Vocal music. Shooting. Fencing (sword, not barbed wire). Carpentry. Yes, it is fun sometimes to see just how fast a choir can get through “And He Shall Purify” before the last vocalist crashes and taps out. Or to race through the Toccata of the Toccata and Fugue at top speed, leaving wrong notes scattered all over the place and not caring. But that’s after you already know the piece, know it well, and are funning around. More often, the instructor or conductor will hold you back, insisting on precision and smoothness. We’ve probably all heard choirs who accelerate through the “Alleluia” chorus, leaving the orchestra or pianist/organist two pages behind.*
My voice has peaked. I’m still gaining skill in technique, but I will soon lose more and more of the upper register. That’s what happens with ageing. Since I’m already a switch, meaning I can sing soprano 1, soprano2, and alto 1, in a year or two I will stop worrying about the high Bs and Cs. Right now, high B-flat is the effective end of my register. Yes, I can go higher, if all the stars align, and sound good. Not coluratura or bellcanto good, but “dogs don’t howl and people don’t flee” on pitch and clear. Given the damage I did to my voice when I was a teen, that’s amazing in and of itself. But time passes, and my instrument is not as young as I want to think I am. Technique can only balance time for a while.
There are people who can maintain peak skill until they die. There are people who should have quit a decade before they finally stop (or the Grim Reaper taps on the door.) Frustration is when the mind, ear, and heart want to keep going, but the joints get in the way.
*It usually traces back to the “For the Lord G-d Omnipotent Reigneth” section, and clipping the eighth-notes too short. That leads to shortening the quarter notes as well, and then it’s off to the races!