Back in 1965, when I first started playing clarinet at the behest of the neighborhood bully who was forced to take clarinet lessons by his family, I lied to my parents to have them sign me up too for clarinet lessons, where the only "story" that I had to express was "relief" when I finally was able to stop taking lessons because I'd simply had it.
My parents, not knowing that I had lied to play the clarinet in the first place, presented me three years later with my father's reconditioned 1929 Buffet clarinet, and lessons from a great teacher.
I went through the motions of taking lessons for a year. Then one day, my teacher presented me with some very old transcriptions of Benny Goodman's solos. He asked me if I liked jazz but I didn't know what jazz was. But what I DID NOT understand was that my teacher, Doug Soyars, was INVESTED in ME.
I practiced them like classical études, and when I came back the next week playing them without jazz conception, my teacher played them for me. I was so amazed that by the end of that day, at the age of fourteen, I decided that my life's goal was to be a jazz clarinetist! What's remarkable to me 46 years later is that I was INVESTED in the artistic personality of Benny Goodman (twice removed, as his solos were first transcribed, and then interpreted by my teacher). In short, my life after that day was indelibly changed because Goodman's artistry, heart, life and storytelling resonated deeply within me.
But at that point the clarinet was still a "tube that I was blowing through" and not an extension of myself. I had no story to tell at that point that was formed although the seeds had been planted...
One year later my world fell completely apart. I was fifteen. However it was music, and only music, that allowed my feelings to develop into artistry, and to gain the skill of storytelling... it was the way I was able to invest in tales from my heart.
Jumping ahead twenty-five years, I had received reviews from recordings that I had released, and a common theme that some reviewers mentioned was that my playing was "poignant". Some of the definitions of poignant are the following: "evoking a keen sense of sadness", "touching, moving, sad, affecting, plaintive..."
Nobody knows the story of what happened to me when I was young. But, my STORY could be felt by others...connection through sound, lyricism, nuance. AND, my investments in artists' profound personal stories had become a core of my life and musical language.
I had undergone a metamorphosis of a profound nature ... an extension of myself allowing me to feel where I once had been numb, playing notes that I neither intellectually chose or heard in my mind, bringing forth lyrical phrases that seemed to play themselves!
THIS quality of "EXTENSION OF SELF" was what transcended ALL the music that moved me! Whether it was Benny Goodman, Bill Evans, Dexter Gordon or so many others, their emotional language transcended the style, technical aspect, instrument or other element of playing. Upon learning of artists' lives, after being moved by their music, in every instance, reflected what I had already FELT from listening!
My trust of my emotions kept me invested in playing. My connection to decades of artists' live and recorded performances, moving me profoundly emotionally, kept me invested in inspiration!
The following elements are paramount when listening to your own story, and for investing in the core of the music artists you are drawn to, but perhaps needing to know how they bring their lives' tales into the language of music:
"Over the decades, I have found a way to embrace profound emotions, and through sound itself, found that tragedy could be transformed into beauty. Investing in my own collection of life experiences, and being open to those of others, both within the realm of music and without, was the key!" - Harry Skoler
~ ALWAYS trust your emotions! If you're moved by the music there is ALWAYS a LIFE STORY behind/interwoven into it!
~ LISTEN to the phrasing and time! Emotions are conveyed with phrasing and time, both in music and in all art forms, as well as communications outside of "art"! Hesitation, groove and dynamics are frequently FROM emotions and not necessarily the other way around!
~ ALL musical elements, tone etc., have an impact in regards to expression, but the NUANCE of pitch bends, growls, vibrato, effects, and harmonic approach all contain CLUES of intimacy and personal expression. On one hand, it's great to be able to access 5,000 songs on your phone, but it is also critically important to listen to one recording many times, and to research one artist over the period of a year or longer, whether it be live performance, recordings, books, films or anything else that you can get your hands on!
Over the decades, I have found a way to embrace profound emotions, and through sound itself, found that tragedy could be transformed into beauty. Investing in my own collection of life experiences, and being open to those of others, both within the realm of music and without, was the key!
Having played the instrument close to half a century, I still rely on the deep emotions buried within, whether practicing a long tone, being on stage in front of audiences, recording, or as my role as college professor. I clear my mind of everything, and allow whatever emotional language to have its own way to come forward. For me, this takes a leap of faith to move towards a goal of courage, as I never know what is going to come forth. But writing this article has the motive of encouraging you to recognize that ALL of us have profound stories that need to be told!
...Each of YOU!
The driving force, in my humble opinion, must be the emotional language that brings forth the expressive core of what moves all of us to be fully invested:
S T O R Y T E L L I N G!!
We are already well-versed in the artistry of expression through everyday life! We do this automatically every single day… When we have a conversation with our close friends, when we relax in a movie theater, moved by a film, when we are alone with a book, or when we are reflecting. The challenge is to take this ability of feeling and discover ways to apply it to that of profound investment of musical storytelling!
Hearing one person's perspective might help you to move past the fear or concern about what other people think, and run towards expressing simply what needs to be expressed: