"I used to give my class at Juilliard, when I taught criticism there, an exercise. I'd play something strange and unfamiliar. Tell them to write about it. "Oh, we can't do that.' So they'd do it. I'd give them 10 minutes. Then I'd say, "That was the second movement of Sibelius' Fourth Symphony.' They'd go, "Oh.'
"I'd play it again, and they'd write something else.
"Then the third time I'd tell them the history of the piece, when it was written, how it was written, what people have thought of it over the years, and they'd write a third piece. The weird thing was, always the first pieces were the best, because there they were out there and they had no clichés to founder on. They were just swinging through the air and grabbing at what they could. The moment they found out it was Sibelius, they started getting these phrases like "the austere northern master' or "he shakes his fist at the gloomy sky,' that sort of crap." Tim Page on loosening it up
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