Sometimes students ask me why I put so much importance in understanding history behind the music when learning new material. “I just want to learn the song,” I’ll hear or sometimes parents will ask me why we are watching videos on YOUTUBE …. Well here’s why
1. Did you know that Hamilton (the Musical) was originally going to be a mix tape? If you understand this while singing the different pieces, it is easier to understand how the language works. The singer will find it easier to express emotion by understanding that the spoken word is driving these works. It will also help the accompanist understand the repetition and textures in creating in the accompaniment and how to support the singer better.
2. Did something political happen affecting the composition? Sometimes the work was done as a political statement … for example, Beethoven dedicate his 3rd Symphony “Eroica” to a “great man” Napoleon Bonaparte. But when Napoleon crowned himself emperor – Beethoven scratched out the dedication to make it “the memory of a great man” It makes it clear why this symphony was longer and more intense than most symphonies at that time and even called for a larger orchestra.
3. Did you know that Bach spent time in jail and during that time, he composed studies for the organ? Orgelbüchlein’ – which are excellent pieces to work on technique on the organ? They have a darker and almost frustrated tone so if one understood the history of why Bach was in jail – it will be easier to be able to express the emotion in these works.
So when learning new material – remember it isn’t about the notes but rather why the notes were composed.