• What Makes Music Music?

    • Posted on Apr 06, 1979

    4/6/79

    Have you ever been to a musical performance where everything was right technically; the performers knew the music well, they played with ease and skill, yet the music was missing?  I don’t mean that something was missing from the music.  I mean the music itself was missing.  Only the well-played notes were there.

    Living out here in the boondocks, we boonie-dwellers get several opportunities a year to hear the difference between skill or technique in note-playing, and the art of music-making.  I mean the traveling artists that come, the not-so-great ones, the climbing ones, the insecure, the young, the full-of-self ones often have a near-perfect technique that substitutes for music.  There’s no need to mention names, but our Artists’ Series and Symphonies do get fairly famous pianists, or orchestras, or opera companies who display great skill in noteplaying, by they omit the real music.

    Of course, in the greatest artist-performers, technique and the musicness of music are perfectly wedded.  They always give their audiences, whither in New York City or the sticks their deepest musical selves.  I’m speaking of Isaac Stern, Rubenstein, Segovia, - we can all name the great rare nusic-makers.

    I certainly sympathize with tired on-the-road performers.  In my own semi-professional playing, I often feel a strong temptation to quit when I’ve played the notes.  Indeed, I’ve taken short-cuts, getting by at times by merely playing notes, more or less skillfully.  But it’s not yet music, as I say.

    So what is this extra, beyond-skill element that makes music music – something more than computers can make?  Some words for it are “heart,” or of course “soul.”  Robert Pirsig, in his wondrous book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” calls it “Quality,” meaning that perfect unity of form and content in all things, from motorcycle repair to simply living meaningfully and gracefully.

    I prefer to think of this beyond skill heart-soul quality more for what it does rather than what it is.  And at the risk of sounding esoteric and mystical, let me call it “displacing the great silence.”

    When a musician fills a concert hall or living room with skillfully played notes, he naturally displaces silence.  In fact, all music, from Muzak to Moog to Mozart  displaces silence.  It reminds us, pleasantly enough perhaps, that almost any music is preferable at times to  everyday silences.

    These every day little silences need only little musics to fill them.  And we certainly get plenty of that on most radio stations and in dentists’ offices.  But when a performer succeeds in going beyond skill and technique into creating Music, he displaces the great silence.  These musical moments – rare enough, indeed – are the ones that we all intuitively seek when we give ourselves to Music, either as listeners or performers.

    When a performer gives himself completely to sounds, he loses himself and becomes one with that which lies behind all music – the great silence.  And from hearing this music, we are made to hear the silence of the stars, and of the universe – the silence from whence we came, and to which we shall return.

    The music itself doesn’t have to be just the great classics, though perhaps that is the quality that makes them true classics.  But “Barbara Allen” or “Greensleeves,” or a hundred other folk songs performed well can surely take us beyond the little silences.  So can jazz, the blues, and even rock, when it transcends thunder.

    When a performer can make his sounds displace great silence, thus making us hear both the music and the silence, we hear what we always seek in performances:true, actual, real, unforgettably displaced great silence.  

    Music. 

                

    Go comment!
    Posted in
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    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
  • What Makes Music Music: Displacing the Great Silence

    • Posted on Apr 06, 1979

    4/6/79

    Have you ever been to a musical performance where everything was right technically; the performers knew the music well, they played with ease and skill, yet the music was missing?  I don’t mean that something was missing from the music.  I mean the music itself was missing.  Only the well-played notes were there.

     Living out here in the boondocks, we boonie-dwellers get several opportunities a year to hear the difference between skill or technique in note-playing, and the art of music-making.  I mean the traveling artists that come, the not-so-great ones, the climbing ones, the insecure, the young, the full-of-self ones often have a near-perfect technique that substitutes for music.  There’s no need to mention names, but our Artists’ Series and Symphonies do get fairly famous pianists, or orchestras, or opera companies who display great skill in noteplaying, by they omit the real music.

    Of course, in the greatest artist-performers, technique and the musicness of music are perfectly wedded.  They always give their audiences, whither in New York City or the sticks their deepest musical selves.  I’m speaking of Isaac Stern, Rubenstein, Segovia, - we can all name the great rare nusic-makers.

    I certainly sympathize with tired on-the-road performers.  In my own semi-professional playing, I often feel a strong temptation to quit when I’ve played the notes.  Indeed, I’ve taken short-cuts, getting by at times by merely playing notes, more or less skillfully.  But it’s not yet music, as I say.

    So what is this extra, beyond-skill element that makes music music – something more than computers can make?  Some words for it are “heart,” or of course “soul.”  Robert Pirsig, in his wondrous book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” calls it “Quality,” meaning that perfect unity of form and content in all things, from motorcycle repair to simply living meaningfully and gracefully.

     I prefer to think of this beyond skill heart-soul quality more for what it does rather than what it is.  And at the risk of sounding esoteric and mystical, let me call it “displacing the great silence.”

    When a musician fills a concert hall or living room with skillfully played notes, he naturally displaces silence.  In fact, all music, from Muzak to Moog to Mozart  displaces silence.  It reminds us, pleasantly enough perhaps, that almost any music is preferable at times to  everyday silences.

    These every day little silences need only little musics to fill them.  And we certainly get plenty of that on most radio stations and in dentists’ offices.  But when a performer succeeds in going beyond skill and technique into creating Music, he displaces the great silence.  These musical moments – rare enough, indeed – are the ones that we all intuitively seek when we give ourselves to Music, either as listeners or performers.

     When a performer gives himself completely to sounds, he loses himself and becomes one with that which lies behind all music – the great silence.  And from hearing this music, we are made to hear the silence of the stars, and of the universe – the silence from whence we came, and to which we shall return.

     The music itself doesn’t have to be just the great classics, though perhaps that is the quality that makes them true classics.  But “Barbara Allen” or “Greensleeves,” or a hundred other folk songs performed well can surely take us beyond the little silences.  So can jazz, the blues, and even rock, when it transcends thunder.

    When a performer can make his sounds displace great silence, thus making us hear both the music and the silence, we hear what we always seek in performances:  true, actual, real, unforgettably displaced great silence.  

    Music. 

                

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Arts
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“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

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