Friday, February 03, 2023

Accidental Doorways

Steven Millhauser's stories always involve imagination, and sometimes they involve explorations of rooms, pathways, rabbit holes, and doorways that lead from room to room.

While teaching a lesson yesterday, with Millhauser on the brain, after reading "Alice, Falling," one of the stories collectd in The Barnum Museum, I stumbled upon a way to help my eleven-year-old student understand the accidentals that kept popping up in her Vivaldi concerto.

It suddenly occured to me that sharps and naturals are like little doorways that lead us into periods of another tonality, not unlike the doorways that lead from room to room in a house (or museum) with many rooms. They even look like little doorways. And in this case the B-flat in measure 77 functions like a window you can pop your head through for a moment, and then go back to the path. This is certainly not intended to serve as any kind of a harmonic analysis, but it definitely was enough for my student to understand what she was playing while she was playing it.

A piece of music, particularly a piece of common-practice music with a tonal plan is a little like a house or a self-contained world of its own, isn't it?

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