"If I die tonight, remember I told you this . . . Don’t be a slave to the ink!" Even though he was smiling, my teacher was dead serious. He proceeded to tell the story of so-and-so famous soloist he listened to once who gave a performance of a work for its composer. The composer asked him afterwards, "Why did you play it that way?" Surprised, the soloist answered, "Because that’s the way you wrote it!" But, my teacher explained, the piece had been composed fifty years ago! In other words, even the composer can change his mind as to what he wants, particularly over time. Individual interpretation is in addition to, or sometimes can even be in place of, the dynamics, tempos, articulation, etc. on the page! It made me think of the Code in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean, a collection of laws, which, according to the pirates themselves, was "more like guidelines than actual rules . . . ." I nodded in agreement, but I really had to ponder this advice for weeks afterward to figure out if I believed it.
Meanwhile, I tried it. I experimented with letting my own interpretation actually trump the instructions on the page when I practiced my violin. I just played what I felt! It did seem to make a difference, musically, even if it didn’t make complete sense. I did decide it was probably better advice for someone like me who has played for decades, who was working on polishing pieces she was already very familiar with, and who was overly conscious about doing it exactly "right." Not always following what’s printed isn’t something I’d tell a beginner. After all, you have to understand and follow the rules before you gain enough experience to know when you can break them! But in regards to my own playing, it was helpful.
Eventually, I realized there were other areas in my life where I had been a "slave to the ink." I had always considered this subconscious practice to be a form of trust. Take studying the scriptures, for example. I literally took every phrase as hard, fast doctrine. Even when I read an essay or blog or watched a video, I would take what was printed or said at face value. I was trusting that any given composer or author or journalist or script writer actually meant to say exactly what they said. I don’t know—maybe this is because I usually take a lot of time editing my own writing to make sure it's exactly how I want it put. Maybe I had the idealistic belief that everyone else took sufficient time to write and publish exactly what they intended. But I soon realized that such rigidity doesn’t take into account what we learn after we publish! In addition, even though I'm careful as a writer, I still want people to believe what I mean, giving me the benefit of the doubt, even if I don't word it well.
Don't get me wrong: being free from the ink doesn’t mean I think I should take scripture as being any less inspired! But there are instances when truths are found “between the lines,” if you know what I mean—where the implications are actually deeper than they appear in black and white. If you practice applying what the written word implies, you soon realize that one Bible verse may have different applications in different situations. Or a certain verse may rise in importance while another one diminishes in importance for a particular life situation. Also, there are almost certainly errors in Bible translation.
Similarly (bringing it back to music-making), adding in a crescendo where it isn’t printed, or even ignoring a diminuendo may be forgivable if you are making the composer's opus more meaningful and beautiful that way—truer to what the music needs to say to make the correct impact. And I'm still very grateful for the "guidelines" the composer includes!
One more thought: As the performer, I'm not the composer. I know. Sad. It would be great to listen to Mozart always perform his own work, but as a distinct separate individual, my interpretation will automatically vary from the way the composer would perform it (as nice as it would be to perfectly emulate a musical genius like Mozart). Perhaps this is a good thing. It makes my performance mine. Unique. Special. At any rate, I get my teacher’s point. I’m still working on being able to embrace this idea universally. But it’s given me a lot to chew on. And I like that.