Thursday, January 18, 2007

A Few More Questions: Interview with Pagannini Jones

Almost six months after out music interviews were interrupted on the former music circle, a few questions (from Shannon Vasquez) were left unanswered. Pagannini did not even know they had been asked! Here finally: questions by Shannon Vasquez, Answers from Pagannin JOnes:

1. how long did it take you to learn how to sight read/read notes well. i
ask b/c i played piano for a few years and i never go the hang of it. do you
think you are just naturally musically inclinced, and you picked up on it
easily because of that, or was there a bit of a struggle?

I find this a really hard question to answer. I learned to read music when I was at junior school - ie when i was maybe 8 or 9. I learned by learning to play the recorder off the blackboard. There are different ways to learn to read, but I have found the easiest way to teach people to read music is to tell them how it came into being from notation used for plainsong. The rest is just practice and counting, really. Forty-odd years on there is still some music I find harder to read than the rest. Particularly high notes can be a problem as I play them less often.

My personal experience suggests that people don't actually read music the same way that it is often taught. We are usually taught that (for example) this note on the paper is B and on the violin you play B like this. So people keep wanting to put in the middle step - find out what the note is called and then find out how the note called that is played. What fluent readers do is read the gaps between notes. In other words, this note is one step up from that one so I do this on my instrument. Sometimes I could not easily tell you what a note is called, but I can find it and play it. How do you learn to play the gaps between notes? I hate to say it, but its all down to practice. All those exercises we had to play had a purpose. Easy exercises had musical notes that moved in small steps. As we got better we were given music with bigger steps up or down, and so we learned how to recognise how they sounded and how to play then.

Am I musically inclined? Well, I found playing the recorder easy. But maybe that was because I played it all the time, so I was bound to get better quickly! I play the violin fluently and sightread music for violin easily. But I have tried and tried to play the piano and in truth, it's just not going to happen! I can play this hand and I can play this hand, but I just cannot put the two together...

2. it there any kind of specific "method" you were taught when learning the
violin? my sis plays, and she was taught by the "suzuki" method, are you
familiar with it? thoughts?

I am not really aware of being taught by any particular method but would simply say I am classically trained. So I was taught using books that referred to the way great 18th & 19th century ciolinists played and taught. The emphasis was on reading and playing rather than listening and playing so I am a good sight reader and a poor player by ear. In general that tends to be true of many musicians who are classically trained. As I understand it the Suzuki method aims to teach children to play more as we tend to learn language, so more emphasis is placed on hearing and playing. This means that children as young as 2 or 3 can play successfully even though they may well not read music. I guess the way I learned to play was closer to how we used to learn foreign languages in UK - the emphasis was on being able to read and write the language so we learned written language and how to pronounce what was written (even if it meant you had to learn to read a different alphabet or script) rather than how to communicate verbally with another person.

3. have you ever been to any live shows/concerts and, if so, which one(s),
and did it affect you/your music in any way?

Yes. Lots! I am lucky enough to be able to go to hear the Halle Orchestra play and have seen Jacqueline du Pres, Yehudi Menhuin and many others live. More recently I went to hear the pianist Alfred Brendal play. I learned a lot about expression, wit and humour, and phrasing from watching and listening to him. It has definately had an impact on my playing and on how I lead the orchestra whilst playing at the same time.
4. have you ever composed music on the piano/violin, and is that anything
you're interested in, in general?

I learned music composition at school but was only adequate at it. I passed the exams... When I was teaching primary school children to play I wrote a small amount of music in an adapted form of notation which made it easier for them to learn to read music. I also rearanged music for the school musicians to play - ranging from beginners who knew up to 3 notes to very able grade 2 and 3 players. It was great fun, but I don't see myself as a composer. Arranging something for our small group of players is more my interest, though I do very little of it. It takes such a long time to write down... I still have to go to work n stuff... Ho hum!