Last week I met up with Benjamin Simon, music director of the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra. He is a real champion for new music both through his commissioning and performance of new works. At some point during our conversation, I asked him what makes a piece for young people “bomb.” To my surprise he replied: “Slow music (in general)…[It] is always a challenge—not only is counting more difficult but attentions wander.” Slow music? Of all the things we discussed, this comment really stood out for me.
Later, while pondering this, I received an email from a conductor friend and I decided to pick his ear about this “slow” thing. He replied, “Ben has a point…the technique required to sustain long sounds and slow music beautifully is not usually in their hands.”
As I was typing his comment my student Monica came in from copying scores for me. She plays in two youth orchestras and so I decided to pick her brain. “Which is harder to play Monica? Slow or fast music?” “It doesn’t matter,” she said. “It just has to be interesting to the kids.”
So, what is it with “slow”? Two professionals who have tons of experience with young players say slow music is out, but each has given me different reasons. Then, you get the student saying tempo does not affect the difficulty if she is engaged in the music. So, is a slow tempo a problem? Or, does the way we present the material make it a problem? Is it technical? Developmental? Cultural?
Maybe I am an idealist, but in my experience the way a piece is introduced to a student greatly affects the way that musician learns the music. Then again, I think about much of the music I have written for young players, and, to be frank, most of it is faster than a walking pace. Is it because I like the “wow” factor, too? How about you?