Universal language

Last updated 11:53 09/11/2012
MUSIC MAN: Violinist and conductor Martin Riseley during rehearsal with the Manawatu Sinfonia. He is guest conductor and soloist at the Sinfonia’s next concert on November 17.

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Music is the universal language. It speaks to everyone, whatever their knowledge or taste.

New Zealand School of Music senior lecturer Martin Riseley is holding a rehearsal with the Manawatu Sinfonia, for the orchestra's upcoming concert on November 17.

Riseley, who is head of strings at the school, is conducting the sinfonia, and will perform violin solos from the conductor's podium - Tchaikovsky, Mozart and Schubert.

The dual role is a challenge, but one he is well accustomed to handling. He was in Palmerston North last November performing wonderful Beethoven and Mozart solos from the conductor's podium.

The dual role works when every person playing takes responsibility for what they're doing, he says. "It's really good for an orchestra. It sort of makes it chamber music. Everyone has to know what their roles are, and that takes a little extra time in rehearsals.

"I like doing it. It's a matter of players being aware, rather than just following a conductor beating. I can only give them little movements when I'm playing, so they have to be right there."

He will have run eight or nine rehearsals with the sinfonia by the time of the concert, and the driving force is to get everyone unified and doing the same thing.

It also lets the amateur orchestra have more time to explore the music, so more depth can be offered to the audience.

"We all come from different backgrounds. We've all got different experience. A professional orchestra plays together a lot. They know what everyone else is doing. I've got to get everyone here doing the same things."

Players working as individuals are fine when they are performing as individuals, but the synergy of an orchestra is its members' willingness to bury their own egos, compromise and work together.

"It's attitude, and these guys have fantastic attitude," Riseley says. "Attitude's as important as the calibre of playing. You can have fantastic professionals, but if they don't want to play together, they're only going to sound so-so."

Riseley began to play the violin aged 6 in Christchurch, and remarks that in today's terms, that's quite a late start. Ideally, he would like to see children at kindergarten started on good musical education, beginning to master an instrument, learning notation and being exposed to as wide a variety of music as possible.

His two daughters started at about 3. "They make these tiny little violins now, amazing."

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Initially, little fingers could be frustrated by the co-ordination required, but once the knack is grasped, small children progress so quickly, and that co-ordination spills over into every other facet of education and development, boosted by music's ability to improve learning in all areas.

"OK, so the parents have to be there, getting them to practise, but it's so good for kids when it happens."

He would like to see major improvements to New Zealand's music education and recognition of the body of research that proves musical learning helps all other learning. Treating music as a luxury or add-on deprives many children of an essential birthright.

"See, music surrounds us. It's everywhere. You turn on the radio. You can't walk into a shop without hearing it.

"OK, agreed, some of it's not actually music, it's sound abuse, but if we were more educated, we'd protest about some of that stuff."

Learning music should be right alongside learning numeracy and reading, he says.

He applauds the increased accessibility to music making, given new technology - "anyone with a Mac can plug in Garageband and go for it" - but thinks some training would add so much to that opportunity.

"Otherwise, it's just going by ear. You've only got part of what there is."

Riseley gained a doctorate of musical arts from the Julliard School in New York, and has performed internationally.

In 1994, aged 25, he was appointed concertmaster of Canada's Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, and he has taught and performed in many countries.

"A performer's job is to communicate, to speak to the audience. We explain the music. We hope we do it so that it speaks to everyone in the audience, regardless of how much they know about music. It's the universal communication, and it's a privilege to do it."

* Manawatu Sinfonia Spring Concert, November 17, 7.30pm, Speirs Centre, Palmerston North Boys' High School. The programme includes Rossini's Il Signore Bruschino overture, Schubert's Rondo in A for violin D.438, Tchaikovsky's Serenade Melancholique opus 2, Mozart's Rondo in C k.373 for violin and Brahms' Serenade No 1 in D opus 11. Details: manawatuorchestra.org.nz.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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