Monday, August 19, 2013

Why rests?

Funny how rests are such a bother:  all they do is interrupt the flow of sound which we go to so much trouble to get going.

I remember listening to a couple of young players who simply refused to stop the flow by not observing a single rest and I know from personal experience how difficult it is to contend with silence.  So why have them?

If they are taken as having as much to do with sound as with silence they may be understood as implicit question marks:
  • What is the direction of my anticipated re-taking of sound: up? down?
  • If no change, i.e., if I am to re-enter on the same pitch I just left have I actually rested, or does the rest indicate an interrupted long note?
  • Does the rest coincide with the end of a phrase, or not?
  • Am I supposed to keep the beat during the rest, or to lose track of it?  How do I know?

The Ear as Gateway

What we learn about music when we study it is precisely that, i.e., about music rather than music pure and simple.  As a result listening becomes harder and harder to cultivate as we remain distracted by notions of form, style, technique---this or that irrelevant aspect of what might be being played whether or not it engages the ear.

Music has come to mean something codified, a commodity among commodities.  Our experience of it is rarely pure and simple except in certain circumstances.  These circumstances are outstanding in that they involve deeply personal experience within a group which then unites in gratitude for the experience and in astonishment at the extent to which it has been fully shared.

I think of Barbes, the boite in Brooklyn where Rachelle Garniez plays once a month: I wouldn't miss it, partly for the reasons described above.

Also, listening to the choir at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in NYC under the direction of the late Gerre Hancock, a sound so deeply human and so richly personal that it produced a palpable agreement among the congregation that we had all been mutually engaged and transformed.