Thursday, January 8, 2015

Music and Fear: the conclusion

    Yet there is a Muse, there is an exemplary Teacher, there is a Creator who made the reality of sound, and there is an omnipresence of music which provokes some of us to realize we have an appetite for a creative - and even in the totally untrained an analytical - response. "How do they do that?" And "Is it possible I could do it too?" "Am I only a listener, or might I join the team of producers? "Do I have a sound worth making?"
    The fact that we enjoy listening to music, or dancing to it, does not necessarily oblige us to become musicians, anymore then a fondness for potatoes requires us to become farmers. Musicians, like farmers, like customers, and often enough they do not welcome competition, which may be part of the reason, as I have found from long experience, that a large percentage of excellent musicians are inadequate as teachers.
    They can and will impart some particular information, but not the basic step-by-step analytical approach required of all true instruction.
    This is not necessarily a criticism of musicians, but the acknowledgement of the particular vocation of the teacher, basically a condition of mind that is, at least for the duration of the lesson, much more interested in the performance of the student than of the self. The teacher's intellectual passion actually goes deeper than the performer's, is a higher order metaphysically, recognizing the power, the freedom, the sense of self-worth that comes from knowledge. He who is ignorant has no capacity for performance, thus, before the question - if it affects him - no freedom; he is powerless. But if he knows, he has the freedom to perform, or not. And the choice to not perform, in certain contexts, can have more moral authority than the performance could have, more infusion of self-respect than playing or singing would have given.
    I am considering knowledge in the broadest sense that it applies to music, not just to technical information, although without a hold on theory and practise, the musician will not have the key to put the other aspects of this knowledge into operation.
    The performer needs to know himself, his musical accompaniment, -if any - his audience, his reasons for combining himself with co-workers and an audience.
    Ultimately, the musician, even the most uninstructed and beginning of musicians, needs to know where his talent come from that is, he needs to know the Muse, to understand, what the Muse intends of music as well as of himself. Music comes out of the thin air, as it were, it comes from intelligible even tangible, occasion of inspiration, but it also comes from the very regularity and discernible order of the basic fundamentals of creation. It cannot be without this ordinary simplicity; it must take from the obvious, and it must give back to the obvious.
   Ah, says the reader, why all this philosophy? I would just like to plunk some keys, or agitate some strings, or play around with the holes in a woodwind. What does all this verbiage got to do with the mechanics and the numbers of making music? Why the sound of words, of language, indeed of the sound of music?
    The answer is neither more nor less the difference between man and the chimpanzee. My personal history as an animal trainer is none too profound, but I suspect that there actually are a few musical skills that could be taught to an intelligent chimp. Some aspects of music are that mechanical that time, patience and the appropriate rigging of the piano keys might get a few bars of something simple out of the animal that is said to have the brain closest to the human.
    But eventually the progress of the music would require an idea: a variation in tempo, an increased complication in melody, contradiction in movements of left hand against right, and perhaps the most impossible of all for the chimp, expressions of emotion and philosophical intentions that the animals simply cannot share with the race that gave them their names in the first place.
    It could be that I am overestimation the chimpanzee, of course, when I grant it a musical intelligence, that goes beyond simple rhythm. Can it really distinguish between the notes of the scale? Would the chimp have any ability at all, once the teacher and the learning climate were removed - to reproduce anything at all that vaguely resemble the structure of a genuine melody? If the answer is no, then we should not feel sorry for the animal, we should feel even more grateful for ourselves. Animals may be able to run faster, swim deeper, and fly but their otherwise magnificent sense structures do not have what it takes to enable them to engage in anything so intellectually complex as music. Still, I would in no way discourage any qualified researcher from trying to find out just what musical skills a chimpanzee might acquire. At the point where we begin to learn any skill that requires repeated exercises of physical faculties, we are much like the animals, so much like them that any human attempt to get too quickly to the abstract, to the province where the intellect supposedly predominates, is a pedagogical error. Whatever are the senses that require instruction, the instruction itself requires a seemingly endless series of repetitions, with directions given as simply and clearly, as monosyllabic as possible. And the directions have to be given over and over again, for every different movement of the sense skill required has the capacity for going the wrong direction, or the wrong distance, or both.
    Yes, the teacher of beginners, be they children, dogs, or adults, require the maximum in orderly simplicity, and an infinity of patience. They must have a great affection, in fact, not only for all they know, but for all that their pupils do not know, and be fully prepared to delight, exult, and triumph with their charges over every step that moves them from the darkness into light. That is the joy of real teaching, to understand, transmit, and to see absorbed, practiced, and ultimately performed, the power and freedom that comes from the grasp of the fundamentals of an art or science.
    Is there a human skill which does not require some, at least, basic skill with numbers? Yet mathematics is the second degree of abstraction, as the philosophers tell us, and abstraction is a function not of sense, which we share with the animals, but of intellect, which we do not. So even is a chimp could be taught rhythm, or discovered to have some ability to distinguish one note's pitch from another, he would collapse at the first requirements of reading music, the habit of dealing with each scale in terms of its degrees, or numbers.
    The child or beginner, on the other hand, given the virtually universal appetite for making music of one kind or another, is ignited by the realization that simple counting is part of the key to unlocking what would otherwise be an unsolvable puzzle. And, unless the numbers are continually employed in a logical fashion, the puzzle will not unravel right through to the end. Numbers have a way of affecting everything we do, and no part of the study of music is free of some degree of numerical consideration. Perhaps no one is so ignorant of music that he is not aware of the counting factor. But lack of understanding of the measurement factor is generally common, much more than it need to be. Generally, the uninformed subscribe too much to talent, and too little to sound instruction.

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