lynn harrell on inspiration

Cellist Lynn Harrell

After the previous blog post about the Brahms sextet had gone live, in which I wrote a bit about Lynn Harrell’s great sense of musical curiosity, John Fadial sent along this email from Lynn that he’d gotten after a previous year’s cello festival. Harrell had given a masterclass, and one of the younger students had asked him about inspiration in the process of playing music. Lynn didn’t think that he’d adequately answered the question in the class, and so sent the following to be shared with the student. I’ve edited it slightly for length and clarity.

“I’ve been thinking of that boy who asked me [about inspiration] in the question-and-answer. How does someone work on developing imagination? My family agreed, when I questioned them, that reading a great deal, putting yourself in the shoes of whom ever, and the same for different roles in a film. Cinema Paradiso moved me so deeply – so I questioned on why that was so. I had identified with the young boy, but also the old man. So, questioning one’s emotional response to what we experience can lead us to understand ourselves and our world so that we can express it through our music.

Music was always designed particularly after church music, to take its place in performance – like theater for those who listen. So therefore drama is a very important aspect. My daughter suggest instead of looking, observe. Instead of analyzing, empathize and feel. Traveling a lot and helps as well. Great songs and great opera are absolutely essential: the words in the situation with the music helps the process. It occurred to me for instance, that the final scene of the opera of Don Giovanni, it’s not only about being damned to hell I figure, it’s [also] about Mozart’s anger and defiance …

So much of this dreaming – imagining – is missing today because of video games, internet vines, the lack of face-to-face conversation, etc. When I was in the fourth grade the teachers comment on my report card was that I was a dreamer, that I would stare out the window and would be miles away. My parents asked what I was thinking about. I said I was thinking about being a professional baseball player and hitting a homerun in Yankee Stadium. The teacher of coarse, was being critical. My parents smiled, probably because they were, in their lives, proud that I was so called a dreamer as well as they. This is long before medical science came to realize that fantasy and dreaming is another part of human intelligence. Dreaming and imagining, stimulate those muscles. And like any muscles, working them makes them more flexible, stronger, and useful.”

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