Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A blog-follower in Sweden asked whether "notch" of yesterday's post had some meaning other than the openings in a belt. I meant a marker, like the notch you might use to mark a child's growth. What is interesting is that the word the conductor heard and the word I actually said were probably different words altogether.

In speech, as in music, we hear what we want or expect to hear, often at the expense of what is actually there to be heard.

Last night in my singing class people took turns leading the group through a song new to all of us. It is a notation of a song from the American southern mountains--the sort of notation that can't actually be read because the music exists within oral tradition.

As the first person lead the singing my first reaction was, "That's not right!" As she continued I began to feel how her reading differed from my own and by the time she finished I realized she had sung a different song from the one I read. Hers was thoughtful, introspective; it conveyed the energy of secret longing. As others lead in turn the song was transformed into something closer to my own version of it. In groups I prefer the rousing, "all together now" singing that goes for the long phrase.

Interestingly, the quieter version brought out subtle elements of the song's structure. Mine favored the consonant, hers the dissonant.

Which is right? We will never know. That they are different is the lesson of the day.

But my intended "notch" was not a "knock."