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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Playing with "feel" - what does it mean?

When musicians are complimented for having "a good feel" in their playing we all think we know what is meant. A truth has been spoken for it refers to something deep within. But what exactly does it mean?

In some types of music "feel" is considered everything and is the ultimate accolade, for example when a jazz, blues or rock player improvises brilliantly. In the classical music world this is more often than not a specific reference as in "so-and-so has a good feel for the music of Joe Blogs" or "so-and-so has a great feel for the guitar".

Maybe they all refer to the same thing: that a musician appears completely at ease and at one with the music. This certainly applies to all the examples above. But in the non-classical world “feel” goes deeper. It touches what flamenco artists call "duende". The great flamenco singer El Lebrijano used to say "The days I sing with duende no one is better than me". The Spanish poet Federico García Lorca described the effect of duende on a dancer's body "as like a breeze on sand. It has a magic power...it can never be repeated, just as the shape of the sea is different with each wave".

Going back to the world of classical music a player of great virtuosity is hugely impressive, and so also a player who is called a great "interpreter". This last description is used almost exclusively in connection with classical musicians, ballet dancers and actors. Helen Mirren the actress described "getting into the role of the Queen" by walking like her and in this way more easily "getting the feel" of what she was like.

But none of the above is quite enough to gain that extra special quality and praise: playing with "feel" or "duende". Classical musicians can learn the technique, understand historical performance practise, play at the right tempo, and still it doesn't have "feel" or "duende".

In all music "feel" comes from something deep and even dark within the performer. The classical musician has to also get under the skin of someone else too: the composer. For this I try to get really familiar with many aspects of a composer's music apart from the notes themselves. Where did he compose it? Why? Who for? What was the performance space? What type of instrument/s did he have in mind? What sort of life did he lead? What was going on around him at the time? What sort of society did he live in? When I am familiar with all these aspects I close my eyes and imagine myself there, not necessarily as the composer, but present close by.

None of the above leads directly to playing with feel, nor even all of them together. They are not a point of arrival, but a point of departure.

"Feel" is more than virtuosity and stylistic appreciation, although these are necessary aspects of it. Risk and something born of the moment are an important part of communicating "feel". Lorca referred to spontaneous moments never repeated. Perhaps this is what Paganini had in mind when he said:
"In a performance what the public wishes above all is to sense danger".
His playing was described by Goethe as "a mysterious power which we all feel but no philosopher can explain".

Here are a few scattered notes I have made over time:
"Feel" is about digging deep and showing it.
"Feel" is living in the creative moment.
Interpretative "feel" is reliving the creative moment as if for the first time.
"Feel" is BB King ending a phrase with a sudden vibrato.
"Feel" is Julian Bream making magic of an ordinary musical phrase.
"Feel" is flamenco singer "El Camarón" spinning an improvised thread of a decoration around a melancholy tune.
"Feel" is an old lady who remembering a song from childhood summons it again with scarcely a voice but with tender emotion.

An old master guitarist is quoted by Lorca as saying:
"It is not a question of facility, but of a style that is really alive, in the blood, of an ancient tradition continued, and of something created in the moment".

Well that sums it up nicely and is enough to keep me going for some time to come! And I imagine most of you too.

Read more:
Federico García Lorca
Essay: Theory of the duende (in English)

See the film:
The Queen (2006)

You can find the following artists at http://www.amazon.com

Listen to BB King´s vibrato on electric guitar

Listen to how Billie Holiday sings the end of a phrase

Listen to Julian Bream playing Fantasies by John Dowland on the lute

Listen to flamenco singer El Camarón de las Islas

Listen to Glenn Gould´s first recording of Bach´s Goldberg Variations on the piano

February 2011

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=409 .
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