Thursday, December 20, 2012

Really Reading Music

A brilliant student who did not learn to read music easily, though she read books voraciously, proved both to herself and to me that she not only read but really read music when she balked at playing a cadence because, she said, "It won't sound good."

I can think of no more convincing demonstration that reading music is a matter of dealing with expected sound rather than with the mechanics of producing a neutral noise which then awaits transformation into music.

She was right, by the way, in finding that the chords in question would not sound good.  A cadence in 3/4 time, they were a hemiola, i.e., two consecutive measures with strong chords every second, rather than every third beat.  This shift in accent radically changes the sound.

As a teenager obliged to accompany annual high school Messiah performances I was convinced that Handel did not know how to compose because, with the hemiolas improperly performed, many cadences felt hopelessly unresolved.