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PBDB Book Review Dept.

: Sound in Motion Jason Heath's Double Bass Blog

PBDB Book Review Dept. : Sound in Motion

4/24/16, 10:04 PM

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Sound in Motion: A Performers Guide to Greater Musical Expression. By David McGill. Indiana
University Press.
(crossposted at PBDB)
Having introduced everybody to the influential and important American pedagogue and oboist Marcel
Tabuteau in my last book review, I thought I should review a couple of the books that focus on his
teaching and playing methods. Certainly one of the most informative and entertaining of these is
Sound in Motion, by Chicago Symphony principal bassoonist David McGill. While not a student of
Tabuteau himself, he is a Curtis grad who was exposed to Tabuteaus methods through his own
teacher, Tabuteau student John de Lancie, and through his general influence in the Curtis and
Philadelphia communities. The book is a well-written and opinionated treatise on almost every
aspect of the art of musicianship, taking as its basis the methods of Tabuteau, but moving well
beyond into discussions of auditioning, intonation, and an extended section on the Baroque
performance movement.
His discussion of the Tabuteau system takes up the first half of the book, and is definitely the most
approachable of any Ive read. He organizes the chapters of this section around core musical
concepts rhythm, harmony, motive, and musical function showing how Tabuteaus concepts can
help organize and structure each facet of musical analysis. His frequent and clearly organized
musical examples are especially effective in showing the many ways that Tabuteaus system and
clarify the musical structure of any line. He shows both idealized examples that work perfectly in the
Tabuteau system and real-world excerpts that show that no perfect, all-encompassing rules can
ever completely define how to approach musicality.


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PBDB Book Review Dept. : Sound in Motion Jason Heath's Double Bass Blog

In the second half of the book, he moves gradually away from Tabuteau and into his own views on a
vast array of musical topics. A section on specific issues of woodwind playing then moves into a long
section headed, appropriately, Controversy. In this section he lays out his views on vibrato, tone,
intonation, ornamentation, and engages in a long discussion on Baroque performance practice.
Without going too extensively into his views on any one of these topics, I would characterize his
overall musical worldview as conservative in character and evolutionary in outlook. He idolizes the
style of the early- and mid-20th Century Romantic master performers such as Fritz Kreisler and
Maria Callas, and has a dim view of most, if not all, of the Baroque performance movement. He
makes many valid points about some of the more dogmatic and thoughtless exponents of Baroque
style, but in my opinion goes way too far in his criticism, often getting more than a little strident and
polemical as he goes after even the very idea that performing on original instruments can be
musically equivalent to performance on modern instruments, much less superior:

The baroque performance practice movement of the late twentieth century

resurrected many of the original instruments used centuries ago. It is interesting
to hear what these extinct instruments sound like with modern players It can
also show us quite clearly why these instruments were improved.

4/24/16, 10:04 PM

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Note the use of the words extinct and improved.

McGills is not an unusual view among many musicians, and few can deny that the rich tradition of
performers like Callas and Kreisler are priceless resources for us all to draw from as performers.
McGill seems reluctant to consider that the alternate styles that come from Baroque instruments
that indeed come from the very nature of these instruments can be as enriching and profound in
their way as more Romantic styles can be in theirs. He is clearly an intelligent person and a strong
advocate for his position, but I come away from the second half of his book with the feeling that he
views the evolution of ideas of phrasing and musical expression that differ with the late-Romantic
styles of Tabuteau and Callas as distasteful, unnecessary and even dangerous to music. From the
section on his recommended listening:

Jason Heath's Double

When I tell people about the recordings of the musical artists whom I most
Bass Blog
admire, I am often met with the question: Yes, but who do you like whos alive?
It is disconcerting to hear this question because I believe that, through their
recordings, the great performers of the past are as alive today as they ever
were. Their greatness is not related to fad or fashion. It is timeless.

McGill sees an evolution of musical ideas through history (peaking with artists of the early and midtwentieth century) that, in an almost Darwinian way, led to better and better musicality. However,
this approach neglects the role of culture and society in musical style, and can turn changes or
developments in style which are real and important into improvements that mean that what
came before is by definition inferior.
I cannot recommend this book enough. It has been some time since I have seen any book on musical
style and phrasing this good. While I encourage readers to seek out a variety of views on the topics
he lists in his Controversy section, none of them should be a reason to turn down the opportunity
to learn from Mr. McGill. Thought-provoking, well-organized, and well-written, his book is an
invaluable resource for anyone who wants to seriously apply themselves to learning greater
musicality. Indeed, McGills most important point throughout the book is that, by studying the
structural elements of music, and by analyzing the core principles that guide great performers like
Tabuteau, we can apply basic principles to our own phrasing that can dramatically improve our
musicality. Interpretation is not primarily about feeling or talent, he writes, but about study, logic,
and hard work:


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PBDB Book Review Dept. : Sound in Motion Jason Heath's Double Bass Blog

4/24/16, 10:04 PM

Musical expression is not just the posession of the chosen few. By virtue of our
innate intelligence and human capacity to express and feel our emotions, we are
all born with the potential to be musically expressive The real talent that leads
to musical expression is intelligence. The development of expression is the
development of the intellect.
This smart and inspiring book is one that any serious music student or performer should seek out and

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PBDB Book Review Dept. : Sound in Motion Jason Heath's Double Bass Blog

4/24/16, 10:04 PM

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