Do I Have to Learn This?

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—by Rachel Brandwein

I open the score. Staring back at me are 39 pages of small hand-written manuscript, including numerous gestures and many moving notes in all registers of the harp, in rhythms I have never even seen before. It’s Luciano Berio’s Circles, a 20-minute long work for voice, two percussionists, and harp, and the contemporary music ensemble at my grad school is performing this fiercely difficult piece. After listening to it for the first time, I hate the piece. I literally sigh and say to myself, “Do I have to learn this?”

We all have been there. As students or as professionals, on occasion we are required to learn and perform music that we don’t like or want to learn for one reason or another. This attitude is natural, and finding the energy to work on these pieces or parts can be frustrating, laborious, and feel like a waste of time. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are many benefits to learning repertoire that doesn’t exactly light you on fire. Focusing on those benefits can be the  key to meeting the challenge of a piece your don’t want to learn.

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