… How can you name that place between intention and “sensible” form? How can you name that spot where you would like your illuminating presence to be seen, when your appearance attracts nothing but a transparent stare?
This is from the Introduction to The Sonic Self: Musical Subjectivity and Signification by Naomi Cumming (2000):
In his book, Musical Elaborations, Edward Said (1991) argues that musical performances are extreme occasions, where virtuosic soloists intimidate a submissive crowd into a state of angst at knowing their performative inferiority. In many phases of my life, playing the violin has been an extreme occasion — but not of this kind. At first it was not so much the act of playing that impressed itself upon my memory. Of more formative importance was the extreme effort taken to make lessons possible. Playing music was worth a sacrifice. It was a central value in life. Neither impediments of health nor of geography were allowed to get in its way.
… I was a severely asthmatic child. In midwinter I was carried from the house [in South London] covered in a blanket, like a canary, to emerge blinking in the violin teacher’s room, having tried hard to obey instructions not to breathe while being transported through the cold night air.
A few years later, as an immigrant in a small logging town in the hills of southern Victoria (Australia), I was driven to violin lessons fifty miles away, across the “black spur” — the southernmost tip of the Great Dividing Range that runs down the eastern coast of Australia. It was a treacherous, winding road, through forested country, with strange-looking tree ferns on either side. I arrived carsick and disoriented, to play out of tune.
A year after immigration, I was sent to boarding school in a provincial city (Geelong). There I found no other child had ever seen a violin. Playing was an oddity and a source of social alienation, like my British accent.
In the following, Cumming is talking about two of the teachers that she had as a young adult: Claude Dunand “a French-Egyptian graduate of the Paris Conservatory and Juilliard,” and Démon Sebistik, “a well-respected European violinist and pedagogue”:
… For Dunand, the performer’s emotional life had first to be developed and then to be expressed “through” the violin. Invasive conversations and an incitement to introspection were the result. For the other teacher, whose ideas were more sophisticated even if vague, a student’s subjective states could be manipulated directly by altering his or her technical means of producing expressive sound. He rarely entered into direct discussion of the emotions he heard embodied in a work, but instead focused on features of its execution, to create an expressive result.
Most striking in each case was that the teachers extended their role beyond the transmission of technical skills, or even of formal and stylistic understanding, to include a challenge to emotional life, and rationality, in the name of musical interpretation. Each believed that for a performer to communicate music’s expressive content he or she would require a specific kind of emotional understanding, particularly when playing works in a Romantic style. To be trained as a violinist was then not simply to learn the violin, but to be “formed” as an interpreting musician, in a disciplined process that demanded confrontation with personal expressive lack. Dunand’s way of confronting this lack was simply naïve. Sebistik’s approach was more calculated. As they could not fully articulate the relationship of bodily states, emotional experience, and qualities of sound, all these teachers could do was to push students to a point of crisis, making them confront the gap between any “interior” state they might feel in contemplating a work, and the expressive content heard by others in their performances. Neither introverted self-analysis nor a momentous effort to produce the sound in the “right” way could be successful in bridging the gap, though both activities would be engaged in at length by students in the solitary practice rooms. Somehow a connection was supposed to “happen” in a moment of spontaneous combustion, where interiority made its way into sound.
When visiting London in 1991 I stopped at a subway station and heard for the first time a repeated and weighty injunction from a stern male voice, coming from on high, “Mind the Gap! Mind the Gap!” He could have been a prophet of fundamental ontology. How can you name that place between intention and “sensible” form? How can you name that spot where you would like your illuminating presence to be seen, when your appearance attracts nothing but a transparent stare? How can you name the terror of a dream when you think you sing, but no sound will come from your violin? How do you “mind the gap” you cannot find?