By the time I was 19, I had hit some pretty high marks as a pianist. I was a finalist twice at the MTNA Wurtlizers, once at the Stravinsky International, and had won the concerto competition at Interlochen four out of six summers. I was not destined for Curtis, but I had logged some hours. Certainly by age 17, I had hit the 10,000 hour mark doing at least one thing: listening to the sounds of our 20th Century tuning system.
Today’s tuning adventure took me to a world in which few of us would ever want to be: a “retirement center”, “old folk’s home”, or “nursing home.” Whatever the signs say outside these places, in them ancient humans spend most of their days in solitude, surrounded by others in solitude, communicating with each other little, silent in their own thoughts (or just silent).
I took the elevator to the third floor to find the large common room and piano. The doors opened and the scene lay bare: the walls were stark white, the lights were florescent, and the air smelled of freon and bleach. Continue reading What kind of old person are you?→
It is not often that you find biographies as inspirational as that of Turkish pianist Emir Gamsizoglu.
By age 20, he had pushed himself to achieve a dream that many children share: becoming a professional basketball player. He accomplished this despite being “vertically challenged” – he was the shortest on his team. Perhaps the hardest working because of it, too.
I have been asked a few times, “So, Chip, what do you think of today’s music scene? Where is the Brahms of today?” My answer has been, “There is none. There never will be again.”
Technically, that is still true. There will never be another (fill-in-the-blank individual’s name that is dead). But my answer is different today.
Brahms was a composer. By that I mean: when he woke up in the morning, he already knew that he was going to write down music that day. It was a habit that had grown to predictability, created by a perfect blend of circumstances that placed his psyche in his body, surrounded him with the perfect blend of other individuals, and caused him to study a topic and find satisfaction in living this habit. He was a composer because he had to be.
Brahms was not a pianist. He played the piano. I am not a composer. I have written music down, but I do not wake up needing to.
“Where is today’s Brahms?” My answer today is, “He hasn’t left.” The creative force that was unleashed through Brahms affected his circle of friends when they gathered to hear his songs. His friends’ creative forces mingled with his, each shaping the other. Some of the sounds they heard – some of the stories they told – some of the life they lived – was written down in one language or another – marks on pages – that musicians have brought to aural life a hundred years since.
Last night I sat with Brahms. He was in Brooklyn. His storytelling and soul-cries, weaving speech-sounds with textless ones, transported a different circle of friends outside of time and into another’s soul-life. He still uses Ab, Eb, Eb minor, and Bb minor – and matches those keys with their expressions. What is it about Bb minor…
Musicians are accustomed to counting to four. A lot. Cycles of four-measure patterns are by far the most common pulse.
But music, like sound, is not linear. That is to say: just as the natural harmonics of sound is based on a logarithmic scale, so the rise and fall of music – the invisible “pull” that gives the music its shape – is also logarithmic. The difference between linear structure and logarithmic content is part of what makes music magical.
A 16-measure phrase could be broken up in four 4-measure phrases. Put two of those together, and you have (4+4+4+4)*2. Music theories may condense the idea of [ (4+4+4+4) * 2 + (4+4+4+4) * 2 ] to [ A B ], just as a computer programmer encapsulates functionality.
The figure above shows a recording of a work in binary (AB) form. Each of the two parts is repeated, and the four sections are visibly distinguishable. But where do the points of magic occur?
Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” begin with a [ A B ] song.
By itself, it sound like this:
Steve Reich, Glenn Gould, Charles Ives, and John Cage may have collectively published something like this: