Let’s talk about Lieutenant Kijé.
Over the years I’ve developed a number of methods in my own playing in order to help tackle rhythmic and interpretive issues in playing standard orchestral excerpts. Some of them are straightforward, some of them are so wild that I feel like they probably don’t work for anyone other than me.
But, today I’d like to take a minute to talk about Lieutenant Kijé, my approach, and the concept of micromanaging the beat.
Micromanaging the beat is something that I’ve done for a while now, but only named it when I was trying to explain the idea to a counselor I was giving a lesson to at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp this past summer. (Special thanks to Hunter Gross of the University of Oklahoma for being that counselor). When I mean micromanaging the beat, I mean expanding the meter and tempo in a way that allows me to count and control smaller, sometimes almost normally imperceptible, subdivisions of the beat in order to fix rhythmic or interpretive issues.
That’s a lot of fancy words there, Matt. What does that mean exactly, though?
Good question. Let’s talk about this concept and Lieutenant Kijé.
First, let’s take a look at that original part:
Where are the problems going to be? Let me count the ways.
So, obviously there is a lot of depth when we’re talking about ornaments. There’s the placement, interpretation, consistency, stickings and more. There are a lot of ways that you could address these issues or play this excerpt, but I’m going to illustrate how I do it with the micromanaging the beat.
Let’s start with the basics. What is the time signature and tempo? 4/4 at 120. To micromanage the beat we’re going to blow this sucker up. 120? No way! More like 240. The time signature is going to stay the same, but it’s really going to be 8/4 arranged as two bars of 4/4. Everything gets reduced: sixteenth notes become eighth notes, eighth notes become quarters, quarters become halves. Dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!
But why do that? It’s about the ornaments. I’ve always been told to remember that “the ornaments are not rhythms.” Yes, that is true. However, that explanation has always pained me because they ARE rhythms in a sense, because they definitely take up some kind of rhythmic space SOMEWHERE. They do not exist in the grace note void where time does not exist. So, where do they exist? We don’t usually define that super well. It’s usually just “the space where the grace notes go”.
Personally, for me to play this excerpt consistently I need to know where in rhythmic space they actually exist instead of just throwing my sticks into the grace note void and hoping that they are consistently same. That’s where micromanaging the beat comes in. I can aim for smaller subdivisions for the placement of the grace notes than I would have just ordinarily, so it is more easily reproducible.
First, let’s talk about those four stroke ruffs. I’m going to insert those three notes on the last 16th note of the measure if we are looking at the normal version of the excerpt. Below I have the first two exercises from a PDF which will be at the end of this blog post which shows how we get used to the placement of the notes for this four stroke ruff. The first exercise allows us get used to the placement of the right hand for the sticking of RLL of the four stroke ruff. The second shows how we are interpreting the placement and the slight crescendo into the primary note on the downbeat.
Let’s talk about that nasty measure. You know the one. The fourth bar of rehearsal 1 into the fifth bar. That’s a tricky one. It’s not as bad when you know exactly where the grace notes are going to land. Below is exercise 3 which is from the page that will be available at the bottom as a PDF.
Note that there is a tenuto marking on beat three of this measure, we want to make sure we observe that little bump so that so that beat doesn’t get lost. In my personal experience, there’s a strong possibility that that note is going lost if we don’t pay special attention to it, so including that in the exercise is a good reminder. We want to make sure that we’re maintaining the integrity of the non-grace notes while also absorbing an exact and repeatable placement of the grace notes.
I think that we’re getting the point here on the four stroke ruffs. We can take this and apply it to the rest of the similar figures in the excerpt. Let’s talk about those drags. So, we don’t want them to start on the same beat that the four stroke ruffs start on because they take up less space. If they started on the same subdivision the two notes of the drag would be pretty open and could walk into that dangerous space of becoming a “rhythm”. Instead of the the grace notes occurring on the “and” of beat four in the micromanaged time, let’s move it over a bit so that it occurs on the “a” of beat four. These would be broken down into two 32nd notes in the micromanaged time and then an incredibly small two 64th notes in normal time. Exercise 6 which is found below lines up with the last five measures of the excerpt above.
That about covers our issues for the this portion of Lieutenant Kijé. This interpretation of the grace note timing is what I personally apply throughout the excerpt. Obviously this concept can be applied in a number of different ways in different contexts and how it is used would be contingent on a number of different musical factors.
I’m not sure about anyone else, but I guess that something I really struggled with working on Lieutenant Kijé was the ambiguousness of the grace note timing, and that interfered with my consistency in any kind of performance or audition scenario. With a more concrete timing, I personally feel that it is a little bit less of a bear to wrestle.
Here you will find a PDF of six exercises which I wrote for Lieutenant Kijé.
These are actually things I play on a daily basis and I put into Finale today from a piece of paper I scribbled it down on a while back. Be thankful I didn’t just scan the scribbled paper. That would have been ugly.
If you have any questions about this or want anything of what I’m talking about clarified, don’t hesitate to reach out either through my contact form or through a comment on this blog post.