What is right?
Like the definition of consonance or dissonance, it is all subjective. One young student pronounced a half-step sounding together as "thrilling."
At his age I would have found it horrible.
What is the difference between his reaction and mine? He was not brought up (pianistically speaking) believing that only major and minor chords sounded "right." He was allowed to hear and respond to the whole sound of the piano.
When did composers begin to take that whole sound into account? I think they did so right from the beginning of the instrument's existence: I hear it in Mozart, in Haydn -- even if only in spots; certainly in Beethoven, most definitely in Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, and Bartok, by which time the sounding not quite "right" had become the source of their compositions.
Timbre is one of the most elusive elements of tone: you cannot write it down, it has to be heard. It is the difference between the sound of the oboe and that of the clarinet.
So much of the music industry is concerned with destroying evidence of timbre, or at least disguising it, that synthesizers readily take the place of actual instruments and players. It gets hard to tell the difference.
But there is a difference.
It is hard to listen without bias, whether in conversation with another person or in terms of listening to music.
The other day, listening to the radio, I heard an announcement that Mozart's Symphony #40 was to be played. I know the work fairly well, though never well enough: it is one of those pieces that was overplayed when I was growing up. In becoming too familiar it became completely distorted. So I listened, expecting that I might learn something.
Alas, it was one of those desultory performances that had ground that magisterial work into the mire. I didn't last long.
Thinking about it, as I do when mightily disappointed, I realize it may have been a performance dictated by the going standards of recording production at the time: it would have dated from the 1970's.
Competition is for those who think they can do as everyone else does only better.
Those of us who are born unable, for whatever reason, to do as everyone else does simply cannot imagine being competitive.
I am fiercely competitive in those areas in which I can clearly compete.
In areas in which I am out of the running I do not compete. Those have turned out to be the areas that have the most meaning for me.
The obvious answer is yes: of course everything depends on the details.
But the question needs to be asked: What details? Some are apparent to the eye, others to the ear, others to the fingertips, in some cases one or the other of those perception systems almost drowning out the others.
So you would have to conclude, as I do, that there are all sorts of details, some of the most compelling the least easily defined.
It is not to be assumed that every child develops gross motor skills on schedule or according to some immutable formula. In the rush to master alphabets and number sets schools often assume the essential gross motor skills that embody rhythm, left-right coordination, and other basic coordinates.
Fine motor skills are easily focused upon as they produce results. But without the backup of the larger strength and freedom, they are likely to atrophy, to be unsatisfying.
As for sensation, to that there is no end. But to what are our kids becoming sensitive? To screens. Anything else?
This is a tricky one. We all want to feel comfortable: In our clothes, in our homes, in our working environment, in the places we go to shop, to eat, to do business of any kind. We all crave comfort within ourselves.
This is not simple.
I have been imagining the decor in what was called the "holiday party" at the public health facility in San Bernardino. Only three days later was it described as a Christmas party, with Christmas tree and who knows what other decorations.
Then President Obama is seen addressing the nation on the subject of terrorism with a Christmas tree off to one side. Anyone who reads this blog has figured out that I am Christian and that my religion is part of my identity, both social and musical.
But I can't help but wonder how left out people feel when surrounded by the trappings of a culture based on a religion they do not profess.
A friend told me yesterday that that's why Jews eat Chinese food on Christmas Day. We looked it up online. Sure enough: The tradition goes back to the early days of immigration from those two non-Christian cultures.
Maybe we all need to be more sensitive to the possibility of other identities: to be, in fact, more Christian in our sympathetic understanding of others, of whatever otherness. That, to my view, would be the most effective way to fight domestic terrorism.
This is what painters, potters, needleworkers, and musicians do. I know about the last two from direct experience. What I know from my fingers' imagination helps me understand everything else.
It goes without saying that in order to imagine with your fingers you have to develop a tolerance for mess.
When was the last time you made a mess on purpose?
Very much looking forward to the world premiere last night of a string quartet movement composed by a friend, I listened intently for the "quiet, impassioned"quality she had specified in the tempo of the movement. Let me start by saying that the playing was exquisite: I had gone to the concert of mostly premieres extremely tired, prepared to fall asleep; yet my attention had been held throughout the evening by splendid instrumental playing.
To me one of the greatest strengths of a composition is that it can evoke emotion without pronouncing it out loud. Naturally, that is extremely difficult for a player to do, and it must be extremely difficult for a composer to deal with.
The best example I can give is of a melodic line that seems to rise, or that wants to crescendo, but must not be allowed to. Difficult.
This is the title of one of my favorite songs by Leonard Bernstein. The words continue: "....but I love to sing." The singer, apparently a young child (probably enduring forced piano lessons), defines music as a thing that requires proper attire, sitting still, a lot of stodge, in other words. ("Stodge is not actually a word.")
Music has come to be a thing, an object, a commodity. It no longer has anything to do with the act of listening to ephemeral sound, still less to do with the voice you carry around with you every day and which could burst into song whenever you felt like it.
Do you ever feel like it? Do you ever spontaneously sing? In public?