Svenja Staats


The role of the audience

The moment you walk on stage at the beginning of a concert, seeing the audience for the first time, is always special to me. There is often a sense of excitement blended with a feeling of restlessness present. Excitement about the musical journey which lies ahead and restlessness, or rather eagerness, about where this journey is going to take us. For me, the audience is not only there to witness the unfolding of this 'musical journey'. On the contrary, they are part of the journey and thus performance themselves.

It is one of my goals during a concert to try to have a real dialogue with the audience through the music which is performed. This dialogue goes both ways, which means that the audience can also inspire me to try out new things, causing me to take a little bit more time during a certain phrase for example. These kinds of alterations which are initiated by the audience and happen on the spot change the musical journey, inevitably changing our destination as well. It is hard to explain how this dialogue is established, but I can try to describe what it feels like when this happens so you can recognize it the next time it occurs. In that moment, when there is a true connection between the musician(s) and the audience, it feels like time is standing still and the perception of gravity is lost, creating a sense of weightlessness. During these moments we find ourselves in an alternative world, where not speech but music is used as the prevalent method of communication. I live for these kinds of moments when I can experience this magical feeling and I hope to experience it many more times...

Favorite composer?

"What is your favorite piece or who is your favorite composer?". That is certainly a difficult questions to answer... The problem is that every composer has his unique way of composing and of translating his thoughts and feelings into sounds and thus music. How can you compare Bach to Beethoven or Stravinsky? And how can you possibly choose between these amazing and unique composers? I guess I have come up with a solution though. Since I can't make a choice, I won't. Instead I will play as much music as I can, written by all kinds of extraordinary composers.

Composers and nature

There has always been a special relationship between nature and classical composers. Many composers were so inspired by nature that they often wrote their most famous works while walking in forests or parks, like Beethoven, or made references to nature in their titles, like Vivaldi with his well-known composition "The Four Seasons". More importantly, most musical instruments are made from wood, which is directly derived from the earth! So perhaps from now on you can also enjoy the beauty of nature when you listen to recordings, even though you are sitting comfortably on your couch at home...

The quest for the 'right' interpretation

One of the most persistent ideas about classical musicians is that they are just like a copy machine, doing exactly and only what is written in the score. It is true that the score is often considered to be'truthful'  by most muscians, but in fact it is only the starting point of our quest for finding the right way of playing the piece, or rather playing it like the composer intented it to sound like. However, the score doesn't create the sound, the musicians do. That is why the process of coming up with an own interpretation is so important, because although the score provides us with a really good idea of what the composer wanted, there are still lots of variables which are uncertain, for example the articulation or the length of the phrases, which can alter the music drastically. But how do you decide what is right and what is wrong? Hm... Well, to begin with, there are often certain 'stylistic' ideas which were common at the time when the piece was written which can give you hints about how a piece 'should' be played. You can learn about these ideas by reading the letters or treatises of important musical figures of that time. But even then, there are probably still many variables which are not discussed in these sources, because it was so 'common' at that time to play like this or like that, that people would not spoil any ink mentioning it. So, what is next? Who can we trust in our search for the thruth? Well, this is where we find ourselves in a kind of grey area. I have experienced how two respected musicians tell you that the only 'right' way to play a certain piece is this way, but these opinions (yes, they are opinions...) turned out to be competely the opposite of each other. Relying on others sometimes helps, but it can also make you more uncertain. In the end you need to get confidence in making your own decisions, coming up with your own ideas. This can be based on an article that you read which discusses the composition, by analyzing the piece itself, or by playing other works written by the same composer which can give you a better understanding of the style of the composer and thus of the piece you are playing. But most importantly: you have to do what you believe in, what feels right to you, because that is the only way you can make sure a piece really comes to life and has meaning, which in turn can inspire your audience. So don't be scared to make your own decisions but instead be excited to share the beauty you discovered in the composition with your audience!

The role of music

Spring semester 2018, I took a very interesting class at the Ethnomusicology department of the Indiana University. In this department, they inquire into people's ideas and beliefs about music, while exploring the role of music in life and analyzing the relationship between music and culture in general. This course focused on the relationship between music and political protests and everyday life. For me, it once again showed that music is much more involved in our lives than many of us are aware of. Today, music cannot only be found and heard on stage in a concert hall or on recordings, but also by using the many available streaming services, internet websites, and other media. All these platforms increase the power music has to change the way we think about things, influencing our society as a whole. Let's use this power wisely!

The essence of music

For me, the essence of music is at the core of music making. It is the kind of feeling I am trying to convey when I am playing the violin and quite important when I am figuring out my own interpretation of a piece, deciding on how I want to depict certain musical phrases. Although the feeling which is associated with the essence is very personal, I believe that there are some signs we all have in common while experiencing it. Describing these might give you an idea of what I am talking about. Is there a composition or song, in any genre, that made you feel like you were struck by lightening, made you drop everything you were doing at that very moment while listening to it? Well, there you have it, the essence of music. For me, the essence is not related to certain rhythms, melodies, structures, or even instruments, but it is rather based on whether the performer's heart is involved while making music. Some might call it the magical thing about music, or maybe even better, the spell of music...

In the beginning….

Many people have asked me why I started playing the violin. Well, I grew up in a musical family, although no one in my family is a professional musician. We all loved to listen to different genres of music and all my siblings have played an instrument for fun when they were young, but my parents never expected one of us to become a professional musician; it was just part of our upbringing. My sister and oldest brother started playing the cello, followed by my second oldest brother, who started playing the violin. My mother and I would join him everytime he went to his violin lesson. This way, I fell in love with the sound of the viollin which is the reason why I wanted to play this instrument as well! I still feel very lucky that my parents supported all of us to play an instrument. They provided a foundation for love of all kinds of music without pressuring us to make a living from it!

© 2018 by Svenja Staats All rights reserved

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