Sunday, May 23, 2010

If ever there needed to be a convincing demonstration that music and words are generated by two completely different (and often non-communicating) parts of the mind, it is in the reluctance of musicians to talk about tone. I have noticed that many of us -- yes, I include myself in this -- are unaware of what we do with tone. When caught in the act our first impulse is to deny that we did it, whatever it was.

Another sign is the lack of candor about how it feels to play with another instrument. Personalilty clashes aside, some mixes work better than others for acoustical reasons. I have noticed that two string players will take a lot of time working out the feel of intervals. Why don't these same players take comparable trouble over sounds with the piano? Is it because the sounds are so incompatible that they assume it will be a waste of time? Is it because they spend most of their playing time actively ignoring their discomfort with the sound?

I recently enjoyed conversation on this subject with two wind players, both eminent theorists, one also a composer. I wonder if they chose to become theorists to avoid such conflicts, though I have noticed that wind players tend to be more communicative on the subject of intonation and blend. That is understandable as wind players tend to be one-of-a-kind in an ensemble while strings come at least in pairs.