The Best and Worst of Instagram Score Studying
If a musician studies a score and doesn’t post about it on social media, does it still count? No point in risking it, which is why the VAN social media channels see a steady flow of visually pleasing, life-envy-inducing photographs of scores being studied. From carefully-placed pencils, symmetry or graceful asymmetry, to flat whites, whiskey, beloved pets and quite a few bouquets of flowers, there are myriad ways to create the perfect score-study aesthetic. I critiqued some of the most striking creations.
Sakari Oramo goes for a kind of symmetry here, although the sharpener throws it off. The diagonal pencils are an interesting interruption of the otherwise prevalent verticals thrown up by the barcode, which itself pushes us to ask questions of the horizontal staff. (Or perhaps the gallery I visited last weekend has gone to my head.) It’s hard to say what the pair of (cycling?) glasses bring to the overall composition—a playful abstraction perhaps. The unsharpened pencils suggest this is a shoot first, study later job—get the Twit-pic in before they end up different lengths. There’s thought put into this, but it lacks the vision of a true visual artist and smells like miscellany. 2/5.
Conductor and Delta Airways medallion member Keitaro Harada’s score-study-picture game goes above and beyond the simple coffee and Instagram filter approach of many others on social media, and deserves special mention here. This example is one of his best: pencils sharp as they come, with even the branding turned toward the camera lens. The ruler offsets the staff, and even comments on the meta-picture’s otherwise stagnant rectangularity with questions of framing and framer. The sticky pecan bun is a nice touch, but the true compositional genius is the score and stationery:
There it is, Fibonacci’s golden ratio, the spiral that is seen in the layout of entire universes, or in the phyllotaxis of plants. Harada’s composition adheres to one of the world’s universal truths. Forget conducting masterpieces, he’s posting them on Twitter. Points lost only for the slight lack of parallelism between the ruler and green pencil. 4/5.
There are some Instagram accounts that make me look at my shoddy apartment, busted shoes, and low-key alcoholism and think about all the bad choices I’ve ever made, about how there’s a pureness in some people’s lives that I’ll never reach myself. Nadine Sierra’s Instagram is one of these accounts. In this post, she’s “hard at work rehearsing Nannetta,” and captures a kind of prenatal essence, as if the aria had never been touched by the Earth’s filthy atmosphere. A golden pen and some plant seem to be in some dialogue with one another. The notes, to quote the aria itself, are “illuminated by pure…gold.” Relevant or not, the vegetation is the kind of touch that says, This music is at one with nature. Whether anything will ever be written with the pen, whether anything will mark the otherwise untouched score, is doubtful. Part of me thinks this could be an Instagram setup, that Nadine Sierra doesn’t really always study her scores with tree branch in hand, hence the respectable, but not mind blowing, 3/5.
If I were on the marketing team for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, I’d think branded coasters might be an extravagance better spent elsewhere. But I’d be wrong, because I wouldn’t have accounted for Yannick Nézet-Séguin posting this casual snap. The tea’s half gone, there are spots of water on the coaster itself, in the background his scribbles and markings on “Elektra”—this is a man at work. And although he’s playing the Instagram game, making sure the necessary constitutive elements are contained within the frame, there’s a slight resistance to the over-posed superficiality and downright lying at the heart of the modern image. Nézet-Séguin is candid but thoughtful, a Robert Frank of the score-study-photo world. 5/5.
There’s a running trend so far for consuming food or drink over scores, or at least making things seem that way. It depends what you eat, but dribbling supermarket meal-deal mayo over a $30 book of piano sonatas doesn’t seem to be what they’re going for here, although it’s almost certainly what will happen. Imagine trying to turn the pages with the back of your hand while orange juice runs down your wrist. Smudging your notes as you try to brush away crumbs. Nothing about this image says good times, rather: You didn’t study earlier, you don’t know the score, you’re doing an all-nighter to learn it, and you’re going to eat alone at your desk. 2/5.
This is not so much an aesthetic work as a political one. What is Classic FM trying to say in this photo? They don’t caption it, and there’s seemingly little thought put into the composition, but there’s Mozart, trapped in the wrapping paper of a chocolate-pistachio ball, looking out at us, perhaps with sadness, perhaps with self-pity. Or perhaps with a warning: that we shouldn’t carnivalize his music for Instagram kicks, just as those cynical Salzburg chocolatiers did for profit. He seems to be saying: look what can happen when the image becomes more important than the music. Would Mozart have Instagram were he alive? Maybe. Would he have photographed his scores with flowers and breakfast, artisanal coffee and designer cakes? Looking once again into the small face peering back, I think we know the answer. 1/5. ¶