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Playing with Passion: A Musician's Perspective on Making Music

by Rebekah Stark Johnson
November/December 2013
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In college I spent endless hours in a practice room, sweating and fretting over a cello concerto. I would repeat each section over and over, each time more passionately than the next. My hands hurt, my neck and shoulders were tense; the more passion I put into the music, the more I thought it would give back. I arrived at my lesson already worn out from practicing. Within a few minutes of playing, my teacher stopped me and said, "More head and less heart." Initially disappointed and confused, I began to ­wonder, "Was it possible that my passion was getting in the way of my music making?" Expressing myself with music was all I wanted to do; I didn't have the mental ­discipline needed.

In observing colleagues who were more accomplished technical musicians, I noticed a particular lack of emotion in their playing. They could play the notes flawlessly, counting each measure in perfect time, but with less expression; and their music-making at times was dry and lifeless. Did their teacher tell them, "More heart and less head?" What stopped them from passionately expressing music the way I inherently approached mine? Did they ever just have fun and dance with music or ...

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