Sunday, August 3, 2014

In Tune As a Function of LIstening

If the purpose of being in tune is to sound good with others, then the secret to being in tune must have to do with listening.

This, I fear, is the lost art.  Like the well-intentioned singers I mentioned in yesterday's post, too many musicians are schooled to read without listening.  I did it myself for many years before a great teacher caught me at it and made me stop that pernicious habit.

As soon as you listen to the sounds of your fellow players you are more likely to play in tune with them, particularly if you respect the differences between your instruments and decide to go with the flow, which is determined usually by the least flexible of the instruments.

I say "usually" because flexibility is also in the ear of the player.  There is a common belief that the piano is inflexible.  I couldn't disagree more wholeheartedly.  The overtones of the piano are so complex, and the control available via finger and pedal so subtle that I can play so as to block or not block resonance with almost any other instrument.  This is the art I practice and which I find never-endingly fascinating.

Off to Korea

At the time of this posting I will boarding a plane for Seoul, Korea where I am to present my work on Tonal Refraction.  I will be showing examples of a few individuals' progression through stages of visualization of tones, tone-relatedness, compositions.  Some of these individuals' musical lives were forever changed by the process which is condensed into three weekly sessions.  Others refused the intrusion of change into their lives and did not complete the process.

I have continued to explore the implications of committing my sense of the tones in a specific composition to this process, to wondrous effect.  It completely transforms my sense of what I am doing when I play the music.  How it works is not my concern.  That it works is what I know for sure. Why it works I can tell you:  It is because I refuse to ignore the negative emotions aroused by certain combinations of tones that I have to play.  This does not happen in just any composition.  But one thing that distinguishes the work of a master from just another skilled craftsman is their capacity to load specific sounds, the way a poet might load a specific word, in such a way as to arouse the question in the attentive player's mind: "Why do I have to play such a disagreeable sound?"

Professionals are trained not to notice such reactions and are certainly not given guidance on how to deal with them.  I once questioned such a sound to a prominent pianists whose eyebrows promptly went up in disbelief as if to say: You just play the notes, like everyone else. 

During the short week of my stay in Korea I will not be editing blog posts; the posts published this week will have been written prior to my departure and I will not be posting directly from the International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition.