Thursday, March 22, 2012

Music Really Happens One Beat at a Time

With all the musical events happening all over the world, all the music that is being written, premiered, and discussed, and all the "talk" about the "industry" of classical music and its various "stars," it is easy to forget that most of the music making in the world happens off the internet grid. It happens between a musician and the pitches he or she is playing. It happens in the isolated spaces of composers who spend ridiculous amounts of time worrying about how best to get from one harmony to the next, or from one note to the next. It happens when performing musicians have rehearsals. It happens in lessons. It happens when people practice, and it happens when people play concerts in places far away from you or from me, and in places that are close by.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the amount of musical material I can access instantly using the electronic device I am using to write this blog post. Sometimes I compare the value of access to those riches with the value of being able to find tone colors on my instrument, and (finally) being able to make them at will. When I compare the value of limitless access to recorded music with being able to move comfortably from one note to the next on my instrument, while sounding resonant and in tune, I find much more value in the ability to make something beautiful happen between one note and the next note.

I like to remember that what I am doing when I am writing, practicing, or playing is the same activity or sets of activities that musicians have been doing for centuries. That part of musical life hasn't changed, and I don't think that unlimited access to recorded music and commentary will ever change it. It is a comforting thought.


sean said...

One of my favorite stories is one told by Arvo Pärt, which I will condense and paraphrase here.

During his younger years, largely composing atonal and 12-tone music, he was met with a series of life-changing events. The then Soviet-Estonia didn't want him as part of their composer's union due to his stylistic predilections, so he ended up moving to Germany. Stylistically he was at a crossroads--he felt he hadn't found his voice, and on top of that he was no longer in his home country and felt very depressed.

While waiting outside his apartment in the cold, to catch a bus, he rhetorically asked a nearby street-sweeper "how should a composer compose his music?" I don't think he was expecting an answer, but the street sweeper paused, and thought very hard about this. Then, he said something to Pärt that changed his life forever:

"I think he should love every sound."

This led Pärt to revisit strict species counterpoint, eventually leading him to his sparse tintinnabuli approach to composition.

This story is told (much better) in the film "24 Preludes for a Fugue." But, "love every sound" has been a quotation near and dear to me from the first time I heard it, and it seems to be a part of what you mentioned in your excellent post.

Elaine Fine said...

Thank you for that wonderful Pärt story, Sean (and this is the first time I have heard it). "Love every sound" just about sums up what it is that we do, whether we are writing music or playing it.

Susan Scheid said...

"I like to remember that what I am doing when I am writing, practicing, or playing is the same activity or sets of activities that musicians have been doing for centuries." This is such a beautiful thought to hold, even for me as a listener--and why witnessing a live performance is, well, so alive, in a way nothing else can be. The Pärt story Sean has contributed here is also a gem. Thanks for all.