Some of you are already aware of practicing situations at conservatories in Europe. Not exactly ideal. Many conservatories do not even have practice rooms instead using conservatories exclusively to give lessons. I get the impression that administrative personnel decide to make it difficult for students to study on purpose so they can weed out the chaff. The fact that the Teresa Berganza Conservatory has such limited hours and availability, especially on the weekends, sends me to the park at the the corner of c/ Francisco José Jiménez and c/ Alhambra. Check it out on google maps with satellite imagery using those street names if you like.
Practicing in a park is a bit distracting compared to a cubicle or any room for that matter. Obviously, you’re outside so you get to deal with the environment if it’s sunny or cold or thinking about raining. It reminds me a time I was playing in Argentina a couple years ago for a church service outside, in the cold as the sun was setting. For a few moments, I thought my fingers were going to fall off. Playing outside brings a whole host of different factors into play such as intonation depending on the temperature and consistency of sound.
Music carries much differently when there are no walls to create an acoustic environment. It helps me appreciate the kind of work people like Ezra Hallman work towards, i.e. Architectural Acoustics. The thought that goes into designing a concert hall with good acoustics is an incredible process that takes years of training. Two of the best music halls I know of are in Springfield, Missouri at Evangel University, Barnett Recital Hall and in Athens, Georgia at the University of Georgia Hugh Hodgson School of Music, Hugh Hodgson Hall. Simply stated, they are world class.
Practicing outside has the added element that people are going to hear what you play. Inevitably people approach you, perhaps to stare for a moment and pass on, sometimes to throw things at you if they are not very nice. One time, I was working on the changes to “Inner Urge” by Joe Henderson (youtube it!) when an 75-year old man named Justo approached me. When it became apparent he wasn’t going to leave, I said hello and introduced myself. He told me he used to play trumpet for a professional wind band in Ciudad Real. Naturally enough, he had no lack of opinions out my playing. Turns out Justo was a neighbor who had already heard my playing when I had tried unsuccessfully to get away with practicing in my apartment. He didn’t like my sound very much because it didn’t fit his perspective of a good wind band mix. Having done most of his playing in the 50’s, he seemed to prefer the jazz style of Stan Kenton, Fletcher Henderson and other early swing greats—unfortunately for him not a style I have worked towards emulating. However, I had to give him credit for his ear for melody. He called me out on my practice habit of playing a myriad of scales with no focus to practicing melody, the most essential part of nearly every piece of music. He noticed I yelled a lot too when something didn’t sound out the way I wanted it. A bit of an unsolicited teaching session I soon won’t forget.
If you’re the only person who appreciates what you do, there will eventually come a point where you have to invent a position for yourself or figure out something else do.