Mimicking Masters ~ The Imitation Filters

Mimicking Masters ~ The Imitation Filters


You cannot teach a man anything;

 you can only help him

find it within himself.

- Galileo


Pretending is one of the greatest techniques of learning.  The mind is a curious thing.  Sometimes it only takes giving yourself permission to go beyond yourself to open up doors to higher consciousness.  My almost two-year-old loves pretending to make phone calls.  The other day she pretended to call Korea to talk with her Grandmother, and the next thing we knew, she actually had her on the line!

Sometimes by allowing yourself to pretend to be someone greater than yourself, or simply someone other than yourself, you open up channels in your mind to understand their language from the inside and speak it fluently, as if speaking in tongues.  This is not to say that you’re actually moving outside yourself on some sort of spiritual journey … quite the contrary!  You’re accessing your higher consciousness where you already possess the desired language.

While studying a foreign language, has it ever occurred to you that you dream in that language and actually speak it fluently?  The dream is not an illusion; deep inside you, you already possess a certain degree of fluency that hasn’t reached the conscious level yet.  Children, with their complete inhibition, learn languages like sponges, making mistakes left and right but not caring.  They will themselves to speak and learn, and they do, in a way that can only be described as genius. 

My favorite pianist as a teenager was Arthur Rubinstein.  I spent weeks at a time at the keyboard imagining that I was him.  Through the process, some of his special language passed through me and became my own.  I would spend one week as Argerich, the next as Friedman, the next as Pollini, the next as Arrau, and on and on.  I kept my practicing habits to myself, so each week my teacher would gently encourage me to come back out of my reverie and just play.  But they remained.

This opens a discussion into the nature of filters itself.  This single filter, Mimicking Masters, envelops an infinite number of sub-filters.

One way of defining intuition is as a complex system of filters.  Everything that you allow into your conscious mind has the potential to seep down into your intuition and act as an unconscious filter.  As they say, choose your friends carefully.

Make a list of your favorite twenty pianists.  Add to that five pianists that you respect, but don’t necessarily like or have strong bond with.  Now add five Instrumentalists that you’re particularly fond of {my toplist here includes Heifetz and Casals}, five Singers {here I include Franco Corelli and Maria Callas}, and five Conductors {if you have trouble naming five Conductors that you have a deep enough understanding of to add to this list, you have some serious listening to do…}.

Now take our Prelude, or any excerpt you like, and over the next few days, work through all 40 filters from your list, one by one, staying with each long enough to feel that you’ve captured something of their musical language and persona, something of their essence.   Some will influence you more than others – don’t force or expect too much the first time around.  It may help to take notes along the way about how each makes you feel or play. 

Each of these names over time will become a powerful tool to summon and use at will.  Add names to your list, and work through it at least once with each new interpretation you prepare.  Each has something important to teach you about the work and your relationship to it.  And about what you like and dislike – both are equally important to define to yourself.

Next, make another list of about 20 composers, or as many as you like.  Each Composer inspires a personalized approach; each has his own laws and boundaries and conjures something different out of you.  When you play Bach, you unknowingly pull out your Bach filter and apply it so that your playing sounds stylistically appropriate.  What would happen if you use your Chopin filter on a work of Bach?  Imagine that Chopin had composed a neo-Baroque composition – how would you interpret it? You’ll discover hidden nostalgia, longer lines; you’ll use a more expressive sound, more pedal; you’ll want to sing more.  After you get used to applying this filter, take it away and play it again.  Have you uncovered hidden truths that your conservative Bach Filter had obscured?

Now try a filter slightly closer to Bach – Beethoven. Play your Bach excerpt as if it were a contrapuntal moment in one of Beethoven’s Late Sonatas.

How do you respond?  Can you feel Bach taking on a more visionary, transcendental feel, more bathed in pedal, more vocal?  Now take it away and see what remains.  Beethoven has much to teach about Bach if you listen!  Work through a large sampling of Composer filters on the same excerpt and see what each teaches you about what the music is and isn’t.  You may find yourself enlightened by the knowledge you already possess but had yet to claim. 

Now let’s move into compound filters.  The possibilities are endless.  Choose a favorite interpretation of anything, Friedman’s recording of Chopin’s E-flat major Nocturne, Op. 62 No. 2, for example.  {If you don’t know this recording, it’s a must! – click here to listen on youtube.}

How would Friedman-playing-Chopin’s-E-Flat-Nocturne interpret your Bach excerpt?  Try it.  How does it differ from your Chopin filter?  Apply this same Friedman filter to other excerpts across the repertoire. 

Make a list of favorite recordings and add them to your compound filters list. You now possess a rich complex of filters to apply to any work you study.  Each will teach you something special about the work itself, about your relationship to the work, and about yourself.  The more you use each of the filters, the more it will become a part of you.  This is when copying and borrowing becomes claiming and possessing – you learn to own the filter as its seed grows in you.  Remember something important about using imitation filters – you can only imitate something that you already possess to a certain extent.  Don’t apologize for stealing!  Tap into the energy that inspires the filter rather than the filter itself.