Sunday, December 1, 2013

Why I love Simon Fischer

When I was four or five, I started playing music. When I was six, I discovered how cool languages are. When I was nineteen or so, I was lucky enough to discover, before it was too late, how wonderful math and physics are. Since then, I've always walked an unsteady line between two ways of thinking; I was much weirder than my engineering-school professors and classmates and (later) bosses and colleagues, and to my music friends and teachers and colleagues, I'm probably a little too black-and-white.

I first heard about Simon Fischer via articles and discussions on, and I was intrigued enough to buy his DVD on tone production, as well as his book The Violin Lesson, which I am currently obsessed with. I know that in string pedagogy there is a concept of breaking things down into their smallest possible components, but this guy takes it to a high art. He's able to explain the causes of common and not-so-common problems in very concrete terms, and he's just as concrete about suggestions on how to fix those problems.  He does all this with the utmost calm and confidence, and optimism too - it's as though he really wants you to succeed. He'll say things like "It's all quite simple, really - by [doing whatever he's currently talking about] you will see significant results very quickly" and he's right (about it being simple, and about how easily the problem can be fixed). But there's not even a whiff of hucksterism. He's not trying to sell you anything (you've already bought the book anyway); he's just giving you insight into learning, and the tools to fix problems. After that, you're on your own.

But what's huge - and what really resonates with people like me - is his idea that there is no magic that transforms mechanics into music: the art is the physics, and the physics is the art. There is no separating the two. I draw the bow across the strings, and Esther Apituley draws the bow across the strings; does it sound the same? If not, it's because we are not drawing the bow across the strings in the same way. But if so, it's because we are drawing the bow across the strings in precisely the same way, and to some extent that "way" can be described so that I can try to duplicate it. Maybe it can be said that the "art" is knowing how to execute the appropriate "physics," again and again, on demand. But Simon Fischer's teaching makes the mechanics more understandable and more accessible to more people, and as they (we, I) acquire a better understanding, they (we, I) can then go on and apply that understanding to music, and possibly make some art.

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