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January 23, 2009
Vol. 50 No. 12

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Professors perform music from memory

Five Susquehanna faculty members performed in a concert based around the theme of memory on Friday, Jan. 16 at 8 p.m. in Stretansky Concert Hall in the Cunningham Center.

"Played From Memory" displayed the power of the instrumentalists' use of memory as the professors performed their pieces without the use of sheet music.

Following the music portion of the concert, the faculty members returned to the stage for a discussion with the audience about the art of memorization.

The concert began on the harpsichord when assistant professor of music and director of chapel music Marcos Krieger played "Overture and Passacaglia in G minor, HWV (Handel-Werke-Verzeichnis) 452" by George Frideric Handel.

The second performer was associate professor of music Patrick Long, who played "The Golden Age of xylophone," arranged by Floyd Werle and Randall Eyles. Long was accompanied on the piano by adjunct professor of music Diane Scott.

The third performer was assistant professor of music Naomi Niskala. She played a piece by Ludwig van Beethoven called "Piano Sonata in C major, Op. 53," which is nicknamed "Waldstein."

The final performer was associate professor of music Jennifer Sacher Wiley, who played "Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35" by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Sacher Wiley was accompanied by Scott on the piano.

After a brief intermission, the faculty members reassembled on the stage for the post-concert discussion.

The discussion was interactive, beginning with student rationalizations for or against memorizing music.

Many audience members commented. One student said that the audience can connect on a deeper level with a musician performing without music than with it, as "the visual of music in front of the performer may be distracting."

Krieger said that while traveling and playing instruments other than those to which he was accustomed was "enough to throw out any memorization I had of my music. I feel safer with music in front of me when I am using a different map, adjusting to navigating new territory. [Sheet music] in that situation is my MapQuest."

Sacher Wiley said there are three types of memorization: aural, which is hearing the music in one's head; visual, which is looking at the music and seeing where it is on the page; and tactile, which is teaching one's fingers or voice to perform the music.

Krieger revealed a method he was taught which involved the three types of memorization. He said his teacher made him stare at the music for hours before even touching an instrument, forcing him to sing along in his head and learn the overall rhythm and flow of the song. Next, Krieger said he would sit down with his teacher and write out the entire song from memory, proving that he knew it thoroughly. Finally, Krieger said he could sit and play his song on an instrument.

Sacher Wiley discussed the tradition of certain musicians always memorizing their pieces, specifically pianists, violinists and vocalists.

Niskala added that "piano repertoire is almost [always] played from memory."

Scott said she knew that some musicians love to memorize while others are terrified of it. However, she urged all students in the audience to exercise their powers of memorization.

"Memorizing is like eating your veggies," Scott said. "If you don't like it, then just do it once a week. Don't avoid it because it's too hard. Develop your skills because it is good for you."

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