Saturday, April 2, 2011

Dynamics: Music and Relapses

Today is the annual spring Solo and Ensemble Festival event in Northern Virginia.  I am accompanying several of my students (and even more of other people’s students).  One of the things I emphasize with the kids is that they should focus on five aspects of performance: tone, rhythm, pitch, dynamics, articulation.

Of these elements of performance, it is the concept of dynamics which seems most elusive.  In music we (the performers) need to use great contrast in our dynamic levels so that what we ‘think’ we are expressing through our music is actually perceived by the audience.

Dynamic levels are all about perception.  Subtle changes may go unnoticed, especially if the ensemble is more complicated with competing sounds.  One must exaggerate to be noticed across the room.

My MS and RA symptoms have their own dynamic levels.  Most of the time things stay at a mezzo piano level.  Whenever things decrease to piano, it takes quite awhile for me to finally take notice.  The change from mezzo piano to mezzo forte is one of intensity, or fullness, less about a true dynamic level. 

Those intensity changes are all relative.  What feels like mezzo forte one day may actually be called mezzo piano on a different day.  Same thing with the fortes, of which I would say truly only come with the relapses.  I’m reserving the concept of fortissimo for something unknown which may happen in the future.  Things can always become more intense no matter what.

It is the very long and extended crescendo which is the trickiest.  Like sitting in a tub of water which gradually gets hardly notice when it finally gets too hot.  That’s when it is finally time to call the neurologist’s office to be seen regarding a potential relapse.  Most of my relapses have been the result of a subtle crescendo. 

Subtle or overt, it is all about changes in dynamic level.  Relapses are often not obvious, unlike the changes which I encourage my young students to make in their music.  Gotta be obvious so that you can be understood.

Note: Today’s post is part of the Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge by WEGO Health.  #HAWMC


  1. I love this analogy! As a musician and music teacher, I'm always seeking great dynamic contrast, but I'd be find if my MS just stayed at a nice pianissimo at all times!

  2. Hi Kayla,
    It would be great if MS just performed an impressive morendo. Better to leave life in control of all the beautiful dynamics we can enjoy.