In our mind's eye, many of us can see, in granular detail, scenes we remember, scenes others describe for us, scenes we conjure from thin air. How many can hear sound that isn't out there in the air? Apparently very few. As the composer/performer/master-educator Bruce Adolphe sees is, that capacity is a sine qua non for composers and performers working in any style. Music lovers who just listen are far the richer for it, too.
You may know Bruce from his weekly Piano Puzzlers, heard around the world on American Public Media's iconic classical-music series "Performance Today." As fans know, these addictive bonbons dress up well-known tunes in the styles of major classical composers, leaving it to the listener to sort out what's what. Since 2002, Bruce has put together more than 600, each a reflection of an exceptionally well-stocked, proactive, and playful musical imagination.
Though developed for aspiring professionals, The Mind's Ear is designed to meet music lovers of all kinds wherever they are. Let go of hierarchies and expectations, Bruce advises, and be open to surprise. In addition to his musical chops, Bruce is wise in the ways of theater, and his exercises for musicians and music lovers draw on the theater games that for drama students are second nature. Play "The Spar-Spangled Banner" as if you were protesting U.S. foreign policy. Imagine a conductor walking out on a symphonic performance in full swing. Imagine Mozart returning from the dead to perform—silently, and just for you—a composition he died too young to write. Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter!
The Mind's Ear offers no step-by-step curriculum but a candy box of ingenious experiments in thought and sound—not all of them involving the sounds of music. Bruce suggests that we think of them as games we might find while rummaging in an attic. Play the ones the strike your fancy, set aside the ones that don't or that require technique you don't have. There are no quizzes, no right or wrong answers, no stylistic limitations. There's nothing fancy about Bruce's prose, yet his theoretical comments and his instructions are often sufficient to pique a reader's imagination. In fact, you could read The Mind's Ear just for the pleasure of his thoughts, without ever taking time out for the exercises, though that would be to defeat the purpose. Do yourself a favor and step up!