Letter on Music etc.

3/27/05 DJ writes:




Wow! I’m happy that I found (made) the time to fully digest this email from you. Though I’m never really surprised when something with this much “pith” emanates from your wit, I’m delighted to receive it. I followed your train of thought in being a spectator of the parade but sharing in the joy of creation as much as the participants with great interest.


Your point on not having a “ . . . clue of the skilled requirements . . . ” yet being able to join in the joy of creating the art, spurred a thought about my music that, if you’ll indulge me for a slight diversion, I’ll share with you.


My concept of music is fairly simple. Yes, there are complexities in the production of sound pleasing to the ear but what’s that all about anyway? Why bother with attaining a high level of competence? Why not just bang on some pots and pans scattered around the floor and call it a day? In any case, it could be argued by some, that certain types of “music” could be classified as nothing more than random noise, right? What then is it that distinguishes “noise” from “musical sound” and how does this join with the requirements of a listening audience to be able to share in this creation?


Now then, while drawing a long, (and now) grey philosophical beard while strolling down the proverbial garden path, I propose an answer to the myriad of questions posed above.


In my humble (unscientific) opinion, the difference between “noise” and “musical sound” is a matter of the shape of the wavelength of each. “Noise” will mostly show up as a gross, jagged, ragged line on any device intended to capture such images. “Musical sound” will, conversely, appear as a smooth, flowing line on the screen, inviting the viewer to float pleasantly along with the line. And, if the mechanical device is equipped to do so, a pure aesthetic sound will appear as nearly a straight line, without harsh edges or jarring surprises, manifesting a wave-length of something like .0000000000000000000000002. (very nearly a perfectly straight line, and in some researchers, very close to the “wave-length” of a spirit)


So, the closer a musical sound comes to a pure aesthetic, the more it resonates with the listener (again, in my opinion).


Take a world-class musician from any area and listen to how one single note comes out and you’ll see what I mean. Or, listen to the first six notes played on the album, “Blue After Hours.” That tune was written as a tribute to memorialize the life of Blue Mitchell, a great trumpeter, and I suspect as a bit of therapy for the composer, Bobby Shew. If you listen carefully to the whole tune, “Blue” you’ll see that the trumpet solo perfectly duplicates the emotion of loss and grief manifested in musical sound. Also, I happen to know on very good authority that the composer’s tears nearly obscured the keyboard during the process of creating the tune.


In the solo section of the same piece, the long, draw-out notes cry out the loss and pain felt by the composer. The hauntingly simple solo is exactly how one would feel in the middle of any similar emotional situation. Though the composition and the performance resonate exactly at the level of grief and sadness, it still retains a strong aesthetic quality, pleasing to the ear in my opinion and apparently to many others as well.


As an aside, the solo played on that song was recorded in one take. It was perfect as it came out and I couldn’t change it if I wanted to. It touched me as much in listening to it as it did in playing it. And, significantly, it sounded like me and how I felt at that time. Worthy of note perhaps, is that none of this analysis occurred at the time of the recording. It just came out that way and the evaluation of why it came out so well occurred long after the fact. After all, the listener only cares that it impacts him or her emotionally and nothing about the analytical dissection of the piece.


So, lets look at it from the point of view of the listener. It is my experience and opinion that in addition to “reaching,” that music also must “withdraw.” When I produce a musical sound on the horn, I am reaching. When I stop playing or “play the silence,” I am withdrawing and thereby inviting a “reach” on the part of the listener. Whether this “reach” from the listener is a swaying of the body in rhythm to the music, clapping hands in appreciation, singing along, humming or just thinking and admiring the beauty of the music, all of these could be summarized as participation by the audience. As an example of this concept I draw from an experience shared by Ron Oates and myself.


In 1965 and 1966, I performed with the Navy Band, marching in the longest parade I had ever been in. The carnival period climaxing on Shrove Tuesday in New Orleans . . . The Mardi Gras. Now imagine a parade of this magnitude, absent the cheering, enthusiastic crowds along the route, offering drinks to any outstretched hand along the way, urging you to play more and louder! To say the least, the overall impact would be dramatically even terminally reduced. Suffice to say that the band that we played in on those days rose to the occasion desired by the crowd as our little Navy band of twenty-seven or so members outshined all the enormously large school band and took the ‘BEST IN THE PARADE” trophy’s for both years!


Any performing group will tell you that the audience is the “other member of the band” and that they can make or break a performance. The audience IS part of the show after all, isn’t it? Otherwise the performance is only for the benefit of the participants or the producer only. Now, a performance or production could be for practice or rehearsal to create pleasure or therapy for the creator and the participants and therefore be valuable as itself. But that aside, any performance intended for public viewing and enjoyment must perforce include the audience in the equation.


As in my example, the Navy Band was formed, rehearsed and presented for the benefit of the audience specifically; it is no surprise that it achieved that purpose. This then, brings in one other factor that I will touch upon.


The “intention” of the performer must be taken into account. I have heard some soloists and performers use their instruments like a weapon. In spite of the competence demonstrated, it seemed clear that the intention was to intimidate, overwhelm or dominate others, whether other musicians or the audience. This concept is at odds with my musical purpose, which is: to engage, contact, impact or touch emotionally, involving the listener in the creation so that they are enhanced by the experience in ways they consider desirable. More could be said about this but enough for now.


To summarize this now lengthy discourse, and to support my first statement on my concept of music, I offer this:


Music is simply communication. The quality of that communication determines its being categorized as art or not. The technical expertise is important but secondary to the message intended to be delivered. Finally, music must allow some space for the audience to contribute to the creation.


Whew . . . this ended up being much longer than I initially intended, but there it is.


Now then, back to your email. No, you’ve not mentioned this writer nor the book Free Play by Nachmanovitch. The quotes you have provided definitely hit home with me and I will now “reach” back toward the author and BUY and read the book!!!


Thanks again for the quotes, the feedback and this statement: “One of the highest acquirement in life is in being able to recognize what you see.” BFB


I love it



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