Sunday, June 21, 2009

Cyber Life

I remember life before cell phones and the internet and as I recall things went pretty well without them, but now that the net is here, things go a lot better, are a lot more interesting and a lot more fun. It’s not just that I was never a very good speller, was mildly dyslexic and got painful writer’s cramps after holding a pin more than five minutes; I felt disadvantaged in the skills of communication. Now with my cell phone, SMS, Skype, Facebook and email I am happily and fluently in touch with friends and colleagues all over the world.

This instant communication is mostly a good thing; personally, I have developed valued friendships in China, Indonesia, North America, Finland, Switzerland, Romania and Germany. It’s easy, when we see that we are on line at the same time we can start a chat; chatting over a long period of time, whether it be via typing, voice or video, can lead to bounded friendships. Further, age difference or gender needn’t influence the friendship, the net is safe, and one cannot catch a disease or need be aware of social stigma.

Friendship, however, whether cyber or one to one, can sometimes be annoying. I have several friends who have not communicated directly with me for well over a year even though I hear from them frequently; they “share” with me their favorite cartoons, or something they read recently. I appreciate their intent, they want to share something that was meaningful to them, I suppose that is a compliment in a way, but after months or even years of only secondhand information from these friends, I find myself longing to hear from them directly, their thoughts in their words.

As I think of those who so rarely communicate to me in their own words it seems to be mostly the older friends, the younger ones seem to have no problem to share there thoughts directly; that’s sad. Logically, one would think the older people with their accrued wealth of experiences would have more to say, more wisdom to share. Perhaps it’s that in their successful lives they have less time to contemplate their unique, personal views on life; if so, that’s even sadder.

What is the value of an accrued wealth of wisdom if it is not shared? Is it possible this may be partially the reason that teachers are asked to retire at the age of 65 in much of the world, logically, wouldn’t the wealth of wisdom be richer in people who have experienced more of life?

Dear Friends,

I thank you for all the articles, essays and opinions you have passed on to me in the last years via the internet, I value their content (most of the time), but I would value far more hearing your thoughts in your words. I am interested in your point of view.

Hoping to hear from you soon.



Tokyo, June 22, 2009

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rubato vs Rigid

Rhythm can be viewed as the friendly structure of a comfortable environment or the rigid bars of incarceration; I prefer the comfortable environment.
What are the qualities that make music personal? Probably everybody would agree that it is our individual mix of tone quality, dynamics, manner of articulation, vibrato and our personal treatment of rhythm. Initially, these are skills that are learned when we begin to study a particular instrument; they begin as any new skill, awkward and uncontrolled but in time, after study, they become dependable and stable musical skills. The individual mixture of these qualities is as unique to our to our musical voice as our fingerprint or DNA.

As these basic musical skills formulate we’re faced with an infinite number of decisions that will make our playing musical and personal, among these is the modification, manipulation and personal touches we apply to rhythm; this is called rubato, when, where and how much of it to use differs in all musicians, that is the magic of music.

Many believe that rubato along with dynamics are the key to musical expression, I among them, but an experience 50 years ago in the late 1960s slightly modified that view. An exciting new recording came out called “Switched on Bach”; it was the music of Bach programmed on Synthesizer. As well as being an impressive eye-opener to an exciting new instrument, it demonstrated the musical energy of absolutely perfect rhythm. It was also an amazing eye-opener regarding articulation in the bass and contrabass registers and put into abundantly clear perspective that focused articulation was a strategic part of clear rhythm and that articulation was in fact the fine-tuning of rhythm.

Normally rubato is a slight relaxation of strict rhythm and the stressing of certain notes, usually coordinated with dynamics and/or harmonic progression; its use and how much rhythmic liberties one takes is very personal. Frequently today, we see both conductors and instrumentalists, drastically distorting the rhythm while desperately trying to impose some personal musical signature into standard repertoire. Imagine a young conductor trying to convert Beethoven’s Symphony #5 into something that is uniquely his or an instrumentalist playing a standard concerto in some new and untried way, maybe it’s wonderful, frequently it’s distorted and maudlin. However, even when the piece is hardly recognizable there are merits; it exemplifies for us the limits and prevents us from making the same kind of dubious decisions. It should also be mentioned that, like vibrato being used to cover up an unstable tone, Rubato is sometimes used to mask unstable rhythm.

Quickly, it should be said that there is no right or wrong here, it is personal and as time passes we all change in our musical tastes, I only point out that perhaps striving to be unique is not as important as holding to some degree to the integrity of the composer. If the music is good our use of the personal aspects of musicianship i.e. dynamic, vibrato and rubato, in other words our musicality, will lead us in the right way and it will be absolutely unique. Perhaps when we simply let it happen rather than impose an aggressive individuality, we will achieve a more beautiful result.

June 10, 2009, Le Domaine Forget, Quebec Canada