Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Taste and Dissonance

What is taste if not the sensation of "I like it" or "I don't like it"?

I once spent an extraordinary hour trying to get a nine-year-old who spoke very little English to relate to me.  Seated at the piano before an extremely easy duet the idea was that we would play together stopping every time she heard a sound she did not like.

Apparently wishing she were anywhere else in the world but seated at a piano next to--heaven forbid--a piano teacher, she banged and banged.

"No," I insisted: "I really mean it: Stop when you hear something you don't like."  This time, rather than wait for her to take the initiative, I stopped at the first ugly sound and asked whether she thought it sounded good.

"No!" she replied.  I agreed; in fact we agreed that most of the piece sounded pretty awful.  Very excited, she ran babbling to her mother in Croatian.  Apparently, according to the mother, she was so excited because no one had ever asked her whether she thought something sounded good!

This was not the first time I had seen a strong reaction of a child to unpleasant sound.

Why am I on the lookout for it?  Because of my own pronounced childhood reactions to unpleasant sounds--reactions I could never have expressed except by re-writing the compositions: "correcting" all the diminished triads, lengthening the unresolved cadences, or simply turning the page when the sounds became too much to bear.