Wednesday, November 6, 2013

It's Not What You Listen To, But How You Listen

The media are feeding us a lot of garbage about Mozart and the brain.  I hope you are spitting it out, as babies spit out the carrots that feel so foreign on their tongues.

Let's talk about those spitting babies as the models of proper attentiveness.  When infants are engaged in real listening, that is, listening attached to human involvement, there is no limit to what they will take in.  The human involvement has to include a warm body, preferably with a face that has moving parts, like eyebrows, and a smile or a frown--any sign of life will do.

Too much Classical music is about the notes, the structures, and not about that spitting baby's hunger for the real thing.

This morning, once again, it was my young adult student with the Trio of that Beethoven Minuet in Op. 10 # 3.  Played as I always used to play it before I started paying attention, it is simply a matter of triplets in one hand and punctuating quarters in the other.  Not so fast, say I.  Where, exactly, are the downbeats?  Surely not where the barlines would have us believe they must be, for otherwise why are there so many dash staccatos -- remember those marks indicate strong ambiguity about ups and downs, and recall also that minuets are hemiola territory, par excellence.  Then, what might we have?*

We might have hemiolas intersecting other hemiolas, as was common practice back in the day when musicians were not so tied up in knots about counting as a linear procedure.  And we might have triplets played not in threes but in multiples of seven or five, i.e., constantly against the predictable beat.  Try it.  It will get you up in the morning, day after day, and you won't be able to repeat yourself, not ever, not once. 

(See my book, What Might It Mean?  An Uncommon Glossary of Musical Terms and Concepts for the Stuck, Bored, and Curious, with entries for hemiola, minuet, and dash staccato, among others.  Purchase one at