Monday, June 17, 2013

Dissonance and Consonance

By teaching a blind, autistic child for the past 13 years I have learned not to take any sound for granted.  His musical ear was spotted by an attentive physical therapist at the Lighthouse school and so he landed on my doorstep.  I had no idea how to teach him especially as, unlike many blind children, he does not use his fingertips to orient himself.

I did intuit that one day he would feel the terrible isolation of his situation and a depth of emotion I couldn't begin to name.  So we set off on a path of learning to deal with a wide range of sound, which included dissonance.

He could without the slightest difficulty pick out a conventional harmonization by ear, indeed, he transformed every slightly "off" interval into a familiar sound.  His increasing fascination with dissonance means that he does not repeat himself when he plays because the sound is always a challenge.

Now in his early 20's, he is having to learn the deep sadness of ending a particularly dissonant piece with three conventional chords BUT they have to be fingered in such a way that they cry--so small feat for him, as he tends to use his fingers like sticks--a habit that would take hours and hours of daily therapy to correct.  This is so difficult that he has to make a huge effort to interfere with his memory of "chords as usual" in order to produce these highly specific sounds.

His struggle has taught me a great deal.