Saturday, October 25, 2014

Another Dimension of Time

I had thought there were only three:
  • the faster-than-fast microseconds during which players (including young-enough children) relish vibrations as if one at a time
  • the actual measured musical time which most of us are trained to conceive of as repeatedly counting to four, usually; three, from time to time
  • the lifetime of the player / listener associating the tones heard at this moment with tones heard in the past

Now I sense that there is a fourth, harder to define because incorporeal, even more so than sound itself.  This is the time of cultural evolution that alters the definitions of everything by gradually shifting our access to primary sensations.  I had to learn to hear some of the attributes of tone that most fascinate me now because of the intrusion of this element.

I suspect that this element is historically connected to the confusion that arises when the visual symbol is mistaken for the aural reality.

Friday, October 24, 2014

How Can You Hear Afresh a Piece You Know Inside and Out?

The critical words are "inside" and "out".  If music is real only as measured by scientific instruments or as captured thus made inert by recording devices, then good luck.  But if the inner clock by which we live, breathe, and have our being is allowed to influence our mode of listening then it will be impossible to hear the "same" music twice the same way. 

Hearing is, after all, alive.  Let's keep it that way.  Best way I know?  Buy a bell, not a big one, just one of those little brass Indian bells.  Hang it somewhere where you will brush against it from time to time and let it take you by surprise.  We have a small collection of such bells which we used to hang as ornaments on the Christmas tree.  How the children loved unpacking them and hearing them ring!

Some of them eventually lost their clappers.  One of those muted bells sits on a shelf in my bathroom.  Every time I look at it I hear it.  That's music.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What Does It Take to Hear A Piece of Music as if for the First Time?

If I had the answer to that one I'd be rich and famous.  It is not so easy. 

Try condensing all of Marcel Proust into ten words or less. 

Time is a critical element to Proust as it must be to anyone who plays music.  But time is real on so many levels and the temptation is for music teachers to reduce it to a lowest common denominator so as to save ... time.  In doing so, they destroy it.

I can describe the difference because I have experienced it.  One of my complicated students at age about twelve (actually, they are, as are we, all complicated) was struggling through a piece she was not really prepared to play, this is front of the assembled families and myself.  Seated where I could not see her I agonized at every instant over her delayed responses, the wrong notes, imagining what the parents must be thinking.

Turns out they loved it because they got the message: It was not a finished product that they needed to hear, but her struggle and her desire to know this beautiful music.

Years later I found myself watching the video of that performance:  It was stunning how focused it was - not at all the rote-drilled, note-perfect stuff of more conventional learning. 

Several years later, when she had already become fascinated with Beethoven, Haydn, and Mozart sonatas I asked her if any of her friends were as interested in classical musical as she.  "No; they all had had it forced down their throats."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Embarrassment at First Hearing

Schumann thus described his reaction on first hearing a Schubert symphony, I believe the so-called "great" C major.  He then goes on to tell of his lingering feelings and specific reactions to such things as Schubert's handling the instruments as if they were voices.

How refreshing.  Imagine: We are not necessarily supposed to have clear responses to what we hear on first hearing.  Let's accept the permission Schumann gives us to be taken off guard, surprised, given something to linger over and chew on rather than feel obliged to make up our minds on the spot. 

Ah, but the first caveat that comes to mind: What does that mean in relation to the sanctimonious environment of most new music audiences today?  Good question.

And the second issue: How does that apply to the tone of what passes for music criticism in so much of the press, which is mostly a rehash of the program notes and a lack of candor about the complexity of the act of listening. 

Less definition; more openness.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sensitive Hearing

I teach a young woman who has no natural "talent" for the piano: she has no natural feel for rhythm and she has trouble singing on pitch.  Yet her ear is so sensitive that today, after playing the first note of her Clementi sonatina, she stopped. "It sounds strange."

The piano had been tuned since last she played it.  And it does sound completely different to someone with a fine sense of hearing, which she has.

She struggles through the Clementi (she doesn't yet own a piano, having just moved out of her parental home) which she reads at her lessons only.  But the finesse of her responses to every detail is a joy to behold, both to watch and to hear.  I much prefer attending to her ultra-sensitivity rather than listen to quantities of notes fly past without internal involvement.

Monday, October 20, 2014


If you have any doubt what is and has been and ever will be (alas) up to: check out  It looks like the product of such as I, an independent, low-budget, writing and playing for the sake of keeping humanity properly nourished -- even to the point of inviting you / me / anyone / everyone to subscribe, to pay for the single newsletter, to donate.

Scroll to the very bottom of the page.  If that doesn't sicken please tell me why.

This has been their tactic for many years now.  They get away with it because -- well, you figure it out.

I, for one, and I know I am not alone, do not buy A N Y thing from them.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Improvised Listening

Last night provided an unexpected affirmation of how differently we listen to music without preconceptions of what we are going to hear.  One of the listeners to my first-of-the-series Mixed Bag concerts found that her favorite piece on the whole program was the second which was, lo and behold! the Fugue in E minor by W.F. Bach, the same fugue that I had newly discovered when imagining myself listening as she must have, without knowing what to expect.

When pre-judged according to fugues I have known (mostly by J.S. Bach, father of W. F., and a whole different generation) I had never understood the fugues of W.F.  Now I realize that this puts his fugues in the same category with the fugue in Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin, according to some people, the most beautiful of all the pieces in that suite.  Again, a highly atypical work.

More listening, less pre-judging, which is to say, prejudice.