[This is a repost. Originally posted at TCT]
I have no intention of presenting these posts as straight music history, presented in chronological order. That’s perfect for Music History class (taught by a professor that looks like a grown-up Hermione Granger, no less)– but for the weekly post at a blog full of rag-tag misfits that enjoys discussing the finer points of politics, philosophy, and bacon? No, I think a more meandering presentation is better. Granted, I felt a duty to start off with the oldest complete recorded piece in the world. But a second post has no such weighty considerations, only that I try to make it connect, somehow, to the previous post in some manner.
Our connection is theme. The song is a recent one, from 2009. I know nothing about the guy singing. It’s possible he was on American Idol. But you’ll notice that the lyrics are taken right from the same philosophical vein as the Epitaph of last weekend.
But the song, when I was listening to it, called to mind the central idea of this particular presentation. Before I get to that idea, though, I have to present another, by way of a question: What is music?
Let me ask my question another way: What is the difference between music and noise?
Think on that for a short minute. Give it a ponder. Don’t get too complex– go for basics.
When I was in Music Theory with Dr. D (a former Harvard Countertenor), he was the first person in my music education to ask this question. We students stumbled around a bit, trying to think complex, sophisticated thoughts, like the little idiots we were. After watching us flail about for a few minutes, he had mercy, and provided an answer so simple and sensible there was no way it should have been allowed on a college campus:
Music is sound, organized. As opposed to “noise”, which is sound without organization. This very basic idea becomes the one constant, underlying law of all music, and unspoken assumption throughout countless ages and civilizations until the idiots of the 20th Century West came along and broke that rule, alienating generations of people from their musical heritage. Way to go, Schoenburg. . . [Yes, this means that by definition, all spoken language is a sort of music, a fact utilized when language is distilled to make poetry or fine prose.]
Anyway, music is organized in two elements– Time and Space. The time element is organized by beat and rhythm, space by pitch. Both create form. Song birds sing in clearly defined intervals of pitch and rhythm, in true, short songs unique to each species. Humpback whales compose veritable sonatas, each unique to the whale that composed.
Contrary to the thoughts of the general populace, the first element one must address is not the space element, but the time element. One single posting is not sufficient to cover this entire element, so I’ll leave most of it until later posts. But to first address it . . .
The first marker of time that we humans encounter is the heartbeat of our mother, while we rest beneath her heart in her womb. Consequently, this is the beginning of our musical training– even before the softly sung prenatal lullabies or the piped-in Baby Mozart, the first music we hear is the steady bum-bum, bum-bum of our mother.
As we grow, this primary beat can morph into the harsher tick-tick-tick of the seconds being ticked off by the second hand. It is this sound, the steady tick-tick of time passing away that is highlighted by my selection for today.