Interpretation from a Composer’s Perspective

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As a composer, I am often asked how to interpret one of my pieces and to give specifics on different aspects of it.  This can range from as general as tempo to more specific things like phrasing or what exactly I had in mind with a specific marking. I appreciate that these questions come from a place of wanting to perform my music as I intended, however, I think it would be boring if my music were performed the same way all the time. Music is fluid and ever-changing. One of the great joys of music is when the composer’s ideas are married with the realization of the music by living, breathing, feeling, performers. For music to be real, it needs to be interpreted in the moment. Here are some thoughts on musical interpretation you might find useful:

– I do my best to give conductors and performers as much information as I can but the written language of music is limited. After the piece is done, it is up to you and your students to interpret it.
– Trust your musical judgment. You might have a better idea than me or the conductor of the recordings you find. Be you and do it the way you think is musically best.
– I often conduct my own music differently than how I wrote it. I change my mind often, and every group and performance situation is different.
– I offer specific metronome markings but these are not absolute. Adjust to your tastes and student’s needs.
– It is more important to me that my pieces are played musically than it is to have it at the exact tempo I wrote.
– Performance venue affects tempo too.
– It is also important to me that the students/performers play with heart and emotion, making the performance as musical as possible.
– Every composer has a different idea of how things should be. You would not play Mozart like Beethoven…do some research!
– Determine your interpretation based on your study and research, and not based on someone else’s recording or performance.
– I hear too many cookie cutter interpretations based on publisher demo recordings. Most of these recordings are sight read by professionals.  They are good at sight reading but they do make mistakes. Due to the economics of it being a demo, it is NOT always the definitive interpretation and possibly not what the composer intended.
– There is no “right” way. Try more than one way and then pick the way you like best.
– I may not agree with your interpretation of my piece, but I will still enjoy hearing my piece realized by living, breathing humans. It never gets old!
– Someone will not like your interpretation – that’s their problem.
– Be you, and forge ahead using your musical insights.
– Good luck!

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Larry Clark is the founder and President of Excelcia Music Publishing. He is a well-known composer, author and clinician for bands and orchestras. His music is some of the most popular and most performed around the world for school ensembles.  He has over 300 publications in print and writes extensively about topics of interest to educators and composers.  For more information, visit his website.