Sunday, November 18, 2012

Private Lesson with Burt Hara

Burt Hara, and me, and Mr. Hara's Dog
Last week, I was in Minnesota with my brother Ari who was visiting Carleton College, because that's where he wants to go next year.  While I was there, I had the opportunity to have a lesson with Burt Hara, principal clarinetist of the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra.  It was the lesson of my life!

He was very energetic and enthusiastic, in spite of the fact that he with the rest of the Minnesota Orchestra is locked out.  This is very sad, because the Minnesota Orchestra is a really great orchestra.  I was disappointed that I couldn't see them play while I was in Minnesota.  I think the administration of the Minnesota Orchestra should resign, because they aren't doing the one important job that they are supposed to do, which is to provide the musicians with the opportunity to share their beautiful music with the people of Minnesota, the Midwest, and the world.  For more about this depressing situation, you can check out the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra website.

Back to the lesson.  Mr. Hara didn't work on technique of any kind.  Instead we worked on the style of the piece and how to tell a story with my music.  I started the lesson by playing the second movement of Finzi's Five Bagatelles.  After I finished, Mr. Hara asked me what I was thinking while I played. I didn't know exactly.  His response was amazing.  He said that he thought I was thinking like this:  "My tone is amazing!  I am playing beautiful dynamics.  Oh look!  A crescendo, I will increase the level of my sound by this many decibels." Mr. Hara said I was thinking things like "Isn't my playing just wonderful.  Listen to my beautiful clarinet playing!"

This made me laugh.  But he was very serious, and he was right!

Mr. Hara said, "What you need is a good director of your movie."  Then he asked me what story I wanted to tell when I played the Finzi Romanze movement.  The only answer I could give him is that the movement seemed sad.  Mr. Hara said that when he listened to this piece or when he plays it, he sees an old man.  This old man is on the brink of death and wistfully remembering the life that he has lived.  Mr. Hara then proceeded to start acting like an old man as he sat in the chair next to me.  He put his head in his hands and wept dramatically, and he acted out his role as I played the piece.  His dramatic enactment of the story helped me imagine the story as I played.

We worked through almost every measure in the piece, trying to get that feeling of reminiscence.  After we worked on the piece, my playing became twice as good on the Finzi as it had been.  Suddenly, I knew where I wanted each phrase to go, and I had an idea of what I wanted to express when I played it.

I loved Mr. Hara's teaching and was excited when he asked to hear another piece.  So I played Rossini's Introduction, Theme and Variations.  Again, we didn't work on technique of any kind.  Instead, we talked about the music.  First he had me play through the introduction, theme, and first variation.  Then we went back to the beginning and he asked me what story I was trying to tell.  The only answer I could give was that the piece was happy.  Mr Hara said that I should know before I begin what kind of story I am trying to tell.  I should have a character in mind, and everyone should know from the first note of the piece who I am.  Mr. Hara said that he thought this piece was about a young girl who is extremely cute, innocent, not very smart, and quite a bit flirtatious.  He told me to start playing, and while I was playing, he started flitting around the room, acting like a young girl, flipping his hair and twittering about.

Mr. Hara's acting really helped me get the feel of the piece, and we worked though the entire introduction, trying to tell the story of this young flirtatious girl.  Every part of my playing was better when I focused on trying to tell a story.  My technique even improved!  My high notes sounded less squeaky, my articulation better matched the piece, and the phrasing had a reason behind it.  During the only hour and a half I spent learning from Mr. Hara, my playing really took off.  I took home many new ideas about the pieces that I played.  And best of all, practicing like this is so much fun!  The lesson with Burt Hara was probably the best lesson I have ever had on clarinet  And that is saying a lot, because I have had the chance to work with some pretty amazing teachers!

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