February 4, 2012

Do you know what goes after?

「敗絮其中」 .

What does that mean? The whole idiom (「金玉其外, 敗絮其中」*) literally means “gold and jade on the outside, rot and decay on the inside”; it therefore describes that something/someone which/who looks pretty on the surface is in fact messy underneath the skin. (外面象金象玉,裏面卻是破棉絮。比喻外表很華美,而裏面一團糟。)

This idiom is not easy to be forgotten, even learnt way back from middle school.

Many students (even at the advanced levels) only focus on the playing itself. The outside. That means they think as long as they play more, practice the song mechanically many more times a day every week, and it’s done.

But they never think about finding out what is inside the music. What is the harmonic scheme (tonality) of the piece? Structure and form? Phrasing? Style? Character? Historical background, of the piece? and of the composer? And just how to improve the technique and make it stay? They think just by playing it a thousand times without thinking it through and they might just get lucky getting it done. Well, good luck on winning that lottery.

What exactly are you playing if you don’t understand the content? It’s like reciting a speech in a foreign language without knowing what it is about. For sure you can imitate the pronunciation and add ebbs and flow to the nuance. It just doesn’t sound like anything meaningful at all.

But you see, most people only focus on the outside, the “look”, the “sound”. they forget about the inside, the knowledge, the content. And you know why? Because the content cannot be seen, the knowledge cannot be viewed. But that’s wrong. The audience (the real audience) can HEAR the difference.

It reflects the value in the modern society nowadays. Only the look (or body) matters. People put on nice outfit, girls put on nice makeup and dresses, boys nice cars and watches. And yes, they have all those grand gestures and moving their bodies violently on stage like they are under electric shock. They seem glamorous and well off, but is there anything inside? Certainly, not everyone is like that (I do like nice things myself). I hope to see and dare think that some are also intelligent and knowledgeable in some areas. And that’s what I want my students to be, to play technically well AND be musically knowledgable: I can really hear the presence- or absence of the inside content.

How do we stock up for the inside content? Read. Read more. Listen. Listen more. Think. Think more. If there’s nothing inside our head, there’s nothing coming out from our heart, and our hands. What are we feeling but plain emotion without ideas and meaning? That all comes down to having an “interpretation”. And this interpretation doesn’t come from others, it’s all from the person inside. And in order to create something inside you, you have to first absorb something from the outside world. Otherwise all I can hear is empty sound produced by the hands merely moving across the keyboard.

Yes, you can just copy someone else (or me), but it’s not yours. After all, “All that glitters is not gold.”

Teresa Wong

P.S. Simply put, go eat some healthy food and your skin shall glow. Even without makeup on.

* 「金玉其外, 敗絮其中」【出處】:明朝劉基的〈賣柑者言〉:「觀其坐高堂,騎大馬,醉醇醴而飫肥鮮者,孰不巍巍乎可畏,赫赫乎可像也?又何往而不金玉其外,敗絮其中也哉?」

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