Friday, October 28, 2011


As musicians, we often spend 95% of our effort on how we sound.  But for the average audience member, a concert consists of both a visual and an audio experience.  When this involves a small ensemble looking coordinated is also a challenge.

What you wear says a lot about you. To some people, wearing jeans and a T-shirt to a performance says you do not care about the concert. But to other people it might be a “hip” statement. Pianist Awadagin Pratt often soloed with major symphonies in jeans and a T-shirt (however, he did not do this until after he won the Naumburg Competition). The Kronos Quartet also wears “non-traditional” clothes such as leather jackets and jeans. In the case of Awadagin, his fame at winning a major competition took some (but not all) of the edge off of the criticism of his dress code, and gave him a persona of an “edgy” performer. In the case of the Kronos Quartet, their dress really reflects their choice of programming, which is mainly contemporary music.

Whatever you or your group decides to wear, there are two important things to remember: 1) It needs to look like you care and 2) It needs to be true to the individual and/or the group. I personally despise performing in a tuxedo or even a suit. For me, it adds a barrier between me and the audience that I strive to remove. However, there have been times that I do perform in a suit with my quartet, because as groups there are times we want to portray a very conservative look. At other times we might perform in jeans, because the venue is different and we want to portray a different feeling. But whatever I wear, if I think I look good I will go into a concert with more confidence and security then if I am embarrassed by my dress.

-Tim Schwarz

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


In my last blog I talked about the power of silence. Another powerful tool is listening. Like silence, there are different levels of listening. Think about two people having a conversation. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and feel like they are really hearing you? Contrast that with someone who is just waiting for you to stop talking so they can say what they want to say. Or talking on the phone with someone and knowing they are typing an e-mail to someone else while “listening” to you.

Music, and especially chamber music, is very similar. If I am sight-reading a piece, I spend most of my effort counting to make sure I am not off rhythmically. While this basically keeps me in the correct spot, obsession with counting can actually make me listen less. Likewise, when I really begin to listen, then it is possible I might miss-count a phrase at first. But the rewards are much greater in the end.

In order to truly listen, you have to have some knowledge of what your partners are doing. Are you with them rhythmically or tonally? What is the function of the chord or rhythm? Are you the most important voice? If not, who is? Going into a rehearsal with all of that knowledge can free you to hear the individual style and playing of the instrumentalist. And then you are truly free to communicate with each other in a meaningful way.

-Tim Schwarz