Only Your Composer Knows For Sure
Not having a background in instrumental performance, I used to be puzzled when players would talk to me about “faking” passages of music. Were they just miming? Were they improvising? I still don’t really know what it means to fake a piece, but since I’ve entered grad school and had the opportunity to deal with a number of student performers, I’ve heard this term more and more. (As an undergraduate, I was fortunate to be able to work with high-level faculty performers—if they were faking, they certainly never let the cat out of the bag in front of me.)
My composer friends and I are in near-unanimous agreement that a “faked” performance of our music is far better than no performance at all. In fact, we wish we could convince the student players here to fake more comfortably! This is particularly true for those of us who write music whose performance practice is, in a sense, approximative; a commitment to the affect of the piece, so to speak, is of greater importance to us than the precision of the quarter tones or the metric modulations or whatever. At the very least, if the spirit is there, we’ll tolerate from student performers inaccuracies of the sort that would be unacceptable from professionals.
There are two sides, however, to this issue of preparation: I’m content with a convincingly faked rendition, but I have to wonder how my music and my colleagues’ would sound if our collaborators spent as much time rehearsing it as they do Mozart and Beethoven. I understand that this is an unreasonable request; student players are institutionally required to learn their classics, and when they take on our pieces, it’s usually nothing more than a personal favor.
I suppose what really bothers me is the lost potential for a creative relationship. If, for example, I were to win a competition and have a piece played by the Ensemble Sospeso or Elision or some comparable group, it would be a hell of a line for my resume, but I’d probably have very little time to work out the subtleties of the piece with the players. A student performer, on the other hand, should theoretically have more time to devote to my music than a jet-setting new music ensemble might and therefore more time to acquaint him- or herself with the soul of the piece. Furthermore, it’s much easier for a student composer like myself to cultivate a fruitful long-term collaboration with a peer than it might be with a cadre of internationally renowned specialists. Although the student might have to “fake” more of the piece at first, results down the line could be more satisfying…but only if he or she puts down the Brahms long enough to get a solid grip, and that’s a tall order.