Thursday, May 8, 2014

Tone: A Whole New Meaning

Back in the 60's I read Sound and Symbol by Viktor Zuckerkandl, a work which irrevocably changed my orientation to a musical life.  In it he describes and convincingly demonstrates that a single tone is not music, but rather the dynamic combination, either melodic or harmonic, of as few as two tones.

The dynamic nature of tone relatedness is the essence of my approach to teaching.  If dynamic then not static.  That means that your dynamic may differ in all respects from mine yet it has validity simply by virtue of being dynamic, i.e., alive.  On this principle I can listen to almost anyone play almost anything provided they are doing it with their dynamic self and not in order to replicable either a machine-made product, or themselves as they were last week.

And here is where a new definition of tone is perhaps called for.  Since the day when I read that text our culture's definition of tone has changed to such an extent that it can no longer be presumed that we are talking about the same thing when we use the word.  Some people may be referring to an electronically generated sound rather to an acoustical source.  In Zuckerkandl's day electronically generated sounds existed only in laboratories.

Now children grow up in a confused and confusing sound environment in which timbre seems to have become irrelevant. 

I choose toup-date Zuckerkandl's thought by pointing out that an individual tone, simply by declaring itself acoustically, may evoke an awareness that is inherently dynamic as opposed to the lifeless source of "pitch" so routinely passed off on the unsuspecting young as having anything to do with music.