Works of art reveal themselves to the listener, or viewer, in steps of revelation. Each time one returns to hear or view the same work of art, something new may be discovered that wasn’t experienced before.
a. We are going to explore how to “see with our ears” in ways that we may not have experienced before.
b. We will listen to music. You may already be familiar with some of the selections we will use. Hopefully, several other compositions will be new listening experiences for your enjoyment.
c. We will try put some meaning behind the mystery of composers’ names and music terms that you see on concert programs, hear on the radio, read on CD cases in music stores, or listen to over the internet. We will hop on a time machine and briefly zip through six centuries of music in four classes (sessions two through five).
d. Our goal is to enjoy music more than ever before. We will
discover how to see things happening in the music that we might
not have seen or understood before.
II. The Composer’s "Pallet of Color".
[Set a pre-selected painting in the midst of the group for discussion.
Preferably one with pronounced lights and darks, and flowing with lots
of warm texture.]
Let's approach this intutively. Look around the room and find a painting.
Look at it. Enjoy it. What do you see? Of what is the
image made - patterns of light and dark, textures, colors, and mood?
Music is an aural experience in much the same way that a painting is a
visual experience. Music is an acoustical fabric, woven
of patterns and textures of sound, interwoven with silence, which is capable
of evoking a response in the listener. The composer instead of painting
on canvas, aurally paints in time with sound and silence. Tempo,
dynamics, orchestration, voicings, timbres, and the sound patterns themselves
become the elements of a musical composition - as an artist would use visual
shapes, textures, and colors to create a painting. We are going
to jump right in and try to intutively "see" some
of these building blocks from which music is assembled. Look over the list
below. We will then try to "see" these elements in the music we will be
[Start playing the Vivaldi - Autumn (Four Seasons) moderately
soft in the background while the group is reading over the elements below.]
Speed (tempo): Fast - Moderate – Slow? Almost all music has a “pulse”, just like you do – your heart beat. How fast this pulse beats becomes the speed of the music.
Volume (dynamics): Loud - Medium – Soft? Either by varying how many instruments/voices are playing/singing together, or how loud each is playing/singing, is a way to alter the texture of the music.
Sound Colors (orchestration, voicing, and timbre): Different instruments produce different colors of sound (timbre). One can immediately recognize the difference between the mellow sound of a flute and the bass “Oom-Pa-Pa” of a big brass tuba. Instruments or voices used separately, or in different combinations, create variety in the texture of the sound.
melody or theme - A sequence of sounds (pitches).
harmony - Other sounds that occur at the same time as the melody to accompany the melody.
counter melodies or counter themes - Other melodies or themes that compete along side the main melody.
ornamentation - Florid groupings of sounds that embellish a melody line.
structures – This is a "biggie" - there are many structural forms for individual compositions (canon, fugue, fantasia, toccata, ..and on, ..and on). There are also longer composition forms that contain shorter sections (movements). The major longer forms are symphonies, sonatas, concertos, theme and varitions, and suites. We will look at several of these in more detail later.
[Stop the Autumn recording. Bring the group to interactive
discussion about what they've read. Restart Autumn after pointing out what
we're about to "see" (block dynamics, solo line). Talk freely during the
listening, pointing out the elements listed above as they occur.]
Musical "paintings" which we will hear during this class:
Vivaldi – The Four Seasons – Autumn and Spring - Block dynamics
with leaves falling and birds singing.
Allegri – Miserere Mei - Not all music has a "main" melody.
John Phillip Sousa – The Stars and Stripes Forever - Block dynamics, percussion, and a piccolo in a pear tree.
Leroy Anderson – The Typewriter and The Syncopated Clock - Some musical fun in creating aural illusions.
Benjamin Britten - Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra: Full orchestra - woodwinds - brass - strings - percussion - variations - etc. - via Henry Purcell.
[Stop the music and bring the group back into discussion about
each of the four items below.]
III. What is music?
We all agree that music is a form of art, one way or the other. But what IS music and what does it really DO? We will spend the next seven sessions in search of answers. Consider these thoughts:
a. Art: Music is an acoustical fabric, woven of patterns and textures of sound, interwoven with silence, which is capable of evoking a response in the listener. Is it a mental phenomenon that requires the listener's mind for it to exist?
b. Musicians and Audience: Are the performers and the audience both the listeners? Are the members of the audience sometimes the performers?
c. Behavioral Effects: Is music able to subconsciously elicit a change in one's behavior? Does it have to ability to predictably alter the moods of a whole group of people? Can it subconsciously be used make a group of people more productive?
d. Connection and Healing Powers: Does music have special
powers of connection that allow it to speak directly to one's spirit? Is
music a vehicle for one's inner being to express itself? Is music a therapeutic
medium for healing?
[If any time remains, ask the group which of the compositions
played before would they want to hear all the way through. Play it until
the session time is up.]
IV. Two great sources of enjoyable information.
a. Classical Music for Dummies; 1997; by David Pogue and Scott Speck; Published by IDG Books Worldwide, Inc.; www.idgbooks.com; ISBN: 0-7645-5009-8.
b. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Classical Music;
1997; by Robert Sherman and Phillip Seldon; published by Alpha Books, a
division of Macmillian Reference USA, Simon & Schuster Macmillen Company;
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