The Line

Marcel Tabuteau to Donald Baker regarding Phrasing

Picture a snail shell, the way it starts from nothing in the center and then spirals larger, smoothly and continuously.

Every note has its definite place in the line. But we don’t worry about notes and don’t  just play notes; instead, we play between them. That is the most important part of phrasing.

Picture, if you will, a music relief. We don’t produce it from the front, but from the back. One doesn’t chisel off the front, but pushes out from the back. Often to obtain the beautiful results we see on the surface, we have to do the reverse of what we think.

Picture a glass blower molding his glass. He blows out, and as the glass gets colder there is more resistance. He may blow a little more on one side than on the other to produce something different and rare. We should try to mold our phrases like a glass-blower molds his work.

John Minsker to Laurie Van Brunt

LVB: Did you ever hear Tabuteau say, “It is important to place one’s notes on the wind or the bow and not to wind or bow the notes.”?

JM: Oh, absolutely. A basic premise was that the line… you created the line, and the notes were placed on the line. Haphazard notes did not create the line. The notes were not haphazard. The line was specific. No matter how curved it might be, no matter what the direction of the line might be, the notes must be placed on it. So, he preached this, and of course, the whole technique of articulation on the wind is something I would not presume to go into in this, but that’s exactly what he taught, absolutely, the line was first. He would practice a passage sometimes or demonstrate how a passage could be practiced on one note to make the arch of a phrase on one note and then to take the variegated notes themselves and place them on that same line. So maybe a high note is going to be a little less and a low note is going to be a little bit more in order to take their proper place in that line, so that the line comes out with the same continuity as if you were playing one note repeatedly. He would do that with passages from the repertoire or anything. He would say, “I practice this this way,” and play the repeated notes in the right rhythm and with the direction and the inflection that he wanted and do that and make it sound quite convincing. Something is missing, but it is a very convincing statement in itself. And then add the other dimension by producing the real notes on that line. The whole technique of doing that with the wind is a rather complicated thing, and it’s certainly not something one does all the time by any matter of means. But, it’s something that one has to be able to do in order to be able to achieve certain things musically. It has to be in the repertoire.