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Mastering the Art of Performance: A Primer for Musicians.

* Mastering the Art of Performance: A Primer for Musicians, by Stewart Gordon. Oxford University Press, Inc. (198 Madison Ave., New York, IVY 10016), 2005. 210pp. $24.95.

This is one of those rare volumes that should occupy an honored place on the book shelves of every serious student and teacher of classical music. Beginning with a broad based definition of performance as an integral part of the human experience, Mastering the Art of Performance: A Primer for Musicians, goes on to deal with the psychological, physical, practical, cultural and even spiritual dilemmas and opportunities familiar to everyone who aspires to a high standard of musical performance.

The book discusses a wide array of topics including self-assessment, motivation, and the over-all physical well-being necessary to maximize and sustain a high level of artistic achievement, including recommended dietary strategies. It also provides valuable insight into the mental and emotional process of preparing for a performance, as well as the challenges of performance itself. A helpful template for evaluating one's efforts subsequent to a performance is also included. Consideration of broader issues relating to the ethics of performance; the challenges of achieving a classical music career in a pop culture that is by and large musically illiterate; the inevitable limitations posed by the aging process; and finally, the metaphysical implications of performance as a vocation--are also addressed in the book.

The style and organization of Gordon's book is exemplary because it is astute without being academic, popular without being insipid, and practical without being Philistine. Throughout the text, Gordon offers preliminary outlines of the material he is about to discuss, as well as bulleted exercises and recommendations for applying his ideas. The sections dealing with preparation and practice, obviously garnered from years of teaching and playing experience, could easily form the basis of useful group discussions, as could the sections dealing with what might be termed "post-performance stress syndrome." This self-styled primer is particularly good at dealing with the challenges of performance as a dialectical process that cannot be reduced to a simple formula for success--a process that requires constant adjustment, as well as a high tolerance for frustration and disappointment. Though, in my view, it is not entirely convincing in its effort to paint the depredations of popular culture as an irresistible outcome of history, I nevertheless applaud Gordon's willingness to acknowledge the mounting sense of futility felt by many classical performers who do not live inside the bubble of notoriety experienced by an ever diminishing number of our colleagues. I would also call attention to the neglected option of a career in interdisciplinary studies. Gordon's otherwise cogent chapter on "The Career Challenge," underestimates the demand in academe for those who can relate music to literature, film and other branches of the humanities. Nevertheless, Gordon's stirring vision of the performer as a gothic hero driven to transcend his or her dilemmas by a profound sense of vocation, is admirably balanced by an emphasis on the positive aspects of a lifetime enriched through dedication to artistic distinction and an over-all ethic of public service. Reviewed by Greg Pepetone, Milledgeville, Georgia.

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Author:Pepetone, Greg
Publication:American Music Teacher
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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