Category Archives: philosophy of practice

Walton by numbers

Today has been a fairly productive day – and by that, I mean a day devoted to practising and learning the Walton concerto. It’s strange that conceptions of ‘work’ can vary so widely: in academia, work means writing/research/reading (what I did for my undergrad degree, in social anthropology at the University of St Andrews), but in the music profession, ‘work’ means practising a piece, either on your own or in a group, or listening to it with a score, or working out fingerings or bowings, or teaching, or any other activity that musicians carry out on a daily basis. Writing and research comes into it, of course (I have to write programme notes for my recital in may, so I have been doing some online research on the Walton), but this is not the bread and butter of what musicians do. I am still getting used to this new conception of work, after 4 years of studying for a very theoretical degree – now I can say things like, ‘I’m off to do some work’, by which I mean viola practice, whereas when I was studying anthropology, my tutors would have frowned at me in vague confusion if I had told them I had to ‘work’ on a piece of music.

Anyway, here is a photo of my viola part of the walton, heavily scribbled on with fingerings/bowings/annotations. Today’s task was to firm up fingerings and bowings so that I can really drum home all the notes into my brain, and to help this, I have used a new way of writing my fingerings in – writing them in red for a shift. This means that my music is now covered in red pen (deliberately) as there are shifts all over the place and it helps focus my brain if I know where they are. I’m hoping this will help me when I practice – a kind of walton by numbers! Let’s hope it works…


‘Think’ by Blackburn

Reading the introduction to ‘Think’ by Simon Blackburn, an accessible guide to basic philosophical ideas, I came across the following on the nature of philosophical reflection:

‘For the last two thousand years the philosophical tradition has been the enemy of this kind of cosy complacency. It has insisted that the unexamined life is not worth living. It has insisted on the power of rational reflection to winnow out bad elements in our practices, and to replace them with better ones. It has identified critical self reflection with freedom, the idea being that only when we can see ourselves properly can we obtain control in the direction in which we would wish to move. It is only when we can see our situation steadily and see it whole that we can start to think what to do about it.’ (Blackburn 1999:12)

This quotation explores how reflection is not just an aim in itself, but actually helps us to improve our practice – a kind of self commentary giving us feedback on ourselves. Hopefully I will find that reflection on not only my community work but also on aspects of my viola playing will help me confront issues and overcome them.