Beating a Dead Horse

Beating a Dead Horse

I had a high school student recently do a “crash course” audition preparation.  Though we had been working on it for a few months, the concerto movement was not even close to ready when she first learned of the audition.  It seems she just needed some motivation.  In just 11 days, she pulled the basic technical aspects of the piece together, found an accompanist (on her own for the first time), rehearsed with said pianist, and played the audition. It was a great accomplishment for her to do so much in so little time, and her dedication to grow as a violinist was more evident than ever before.  Her mother and I were both duly impressed.

On the other hand, the experience was very stressful for her, and she didn’t feel terribly confident in her audition.  Thus, I was not at all surprised when, at her lesson the following week, she was ready to move on to the next piece for an upcoming recital.  She said that playing the audition movement again would be like “beating a dead horse.”  She was ready to forget about the stress of the past two weeks, check the piece off her repertoire list, and play something new.   I know this feeling well!

My response, though, was, “not so fast!”

At that lesson, I asked her how she imagined pop singers kept singing the same songs, over and over again, in each new city they visited.

“I’m sure they get sick of it!” she said.

That wasn’t quite the direction I wanted to go, so I moved into our classical frame of reference.

“The best way I’ve found to learn and play a piece of music well is to find a story in the piece, something with a deep, personal meaning to me.  Then, when I play, it’s not the technical aspects I focus on, because I know those.  Instead, I can draw out the music.  To this day, as soon as I begin playing the first movement of Bach’s first solo sonata, I’m immersed in the story and emotions that I attached to it 10 years ago when I was preparing it for auditions and a recital.  And I love re-telling that ‘story,’ because it’s alive to me, changing and developing, you see?”


I think she started to understand when I played her “dead horse” concerto movement alongside her, showing her how much more excitement she could add to the piece with some time spent considering it as more than three pages of technique to be mastered.

As I browsed the internet later that week, I came across a lovely statement that perfectly conveys what I was trying to tell my student.

“The Brentano String Quartet is returning to ‘Death and the Maiden’ having not performed it in quite a while. ‘We do play it differently now, and I think there are discoveries in every performance, in every rehearsal…'”

For those discoveries, I believe it is definitely worth “beating a dead horse!”