I was thinking about Narciso Yepes going blind at the end of his career and how he must have learned music differently. He would have needed to memorize chunks of it after first reading and this reading would have been by looking at the score with a large magnifier. Doing he would have registered the music as imagined sound with the internal images of where our fingers go to produce those sounds.
Students who try to do this because they don’t enjoy reading music create a precarious situation – if you learn something wrong it is very hard to change. There is a period of assimilation and acculturation that young minds need to work through. Western art music is a series of cultural constructions and our brain needs to amass quite a bit of data in order before one can hear new pieces and predict what might come next.
For an artist of Yepes’ experience this was not an issue, and I think of him learning a phrase, then closing his eyes immediately afterwards as he played thorough it a second time. Closing the eyes allows them to rest, a very important thing with deteriorating eye issues. It would also impress the notation on the imagination: writing the music straight onto his brain.
Simply closing your eyes changes everything as the visual stimulus decreases, other brain functions can manifest. These are the processes that are key to music making, imagining the sound and conjuring how to produce it. The body will figure how to do it if you trust it. Narciso at this point in his life had no choice just like Stevie Wonder never had a choice to watch his fingers. It marvelous to think of musicians so far apart in style united in their approach.
Nasrudin was coming back from a friend’s house very late one night when he saw a man sleeping on the grass smelling of drink. He went closer and saw the man to be a judge, well known for handing down sever penalties for moral offences, so, between snores, Nasrudin removed the judge’s coat and slippers and went home.
The next day, having realized his missing clothing the judge ordered his enforcers to check every house and to bring the thief to court. Nasrudin was soon before the magistrate who asked where he had gotten the slippers and coat.“Well, you see, I borrowed them from a drunk lying in a gutter last night. I would like to return them, do you happen to know him?” Realizing the dilemma, the judge dismissed the case.
feature photo by: Alan Bell