Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Leveling of Listening

One of my many unprovable theories about the history of music in our mechanized culture concerns the ear: what happens to it when it does not receive proper nurturing.  Like every other living thing it atrophies.

I believe the trouble started with the piano.  A new invention, a radical departure from every other extant keyboard instrument, it made puzzling sounds because of its acoustic-mechanics.  Key leverage directly affected resonance causing dissonances to sprout up in all the wrong places.

Unable to tolerate this chaos piano teachers devised ways to mask the effect.  First, let's equalize all the fingers so that we aim to hear uniformity in whatever notes we play with whatever finger.  That solves the problem of unpredictability while, at the same time, erasing all hope of touch-sensitive playing, i.e., real expressivity.

Second, let's encourage mindless repetitiveness in our students so that the parents know they are getting their money's worth in terms of piano lessons guaranteeing healthy life habits.  (Good luck with that one!)

Then we have the recording industry applying its rules of acceptable resonance, cleaning up all extraneous vibration.

And now we even have piano builders making instruments that do not have this extraordinary characteristic: the keys are weighted so that they all sound the same, no matter what.

Know what?  You can have it.