Monday, May 06, 2013

The Mystery Of The Musician

My wife and I lay listening to Ravel’s Bolero one lazy morning last week. “Why is it famous,” she asked. So we spoke of the intricacies of composition. The amazing process whereby a composer is able to hear in his head the way a symphony will sound. We pondered how it is that a conductor can hear an orchestra play a piece and know that the woodwinds are flat or that the tuba came in an eighth of a beat to early. Incomprehensible wonders to me. I was reminded of my days in high school.

In high school orchestra there were musicians and there was me. The musicians in my class amazed me. Off the top of their heads they were able to play a melody in a different clef. They somehow could, by sight, rewrite a stanza ‘a half-step down’ or play it in a different key. My brain wasn’t able to hear the music apart from when it was played. They spoke a different language that I was not able to learn.

Still it is amazing that most of us can appreciate music in many forms. We are able to predict certain styles and we innately know basic rules that music follows. I continued to think about music. How it is that a brain can know when a note is perfect. How do some people have perfect pitch? It is not something one can see. A musician’s brain hears the correct note and somehow runs it through a grid then verifies that the note is correct. How can a deaf musician write symphonies knowing what it will sound like though not hearing it in real time. How beautiful the gift of music!

Most of us are common folk that say of music what the man said of art, “I don’t know anything about it but I know what I like.” In his mind Ravel heard a musical refrain and in humor or seriousness decided to echo that same refrain through each section of the orchestra. That he could do it and stir our hearts in the process is magic. That we can enjoy music like that on a slow lazy morning is enchantment as well.

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