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11/14/2006

RAISING A LISTENER

I'm Gabriella's (about to turn six) music teacher one day a week. She's mastered dynamics: She sings a song or plays the piano at forte or pianissimo and a few other other dynamics depending on what flash card I hold up. She's mastered half the notes on the keyboard: She put stickers on all the Cs, and the next week the D's and on and on until now all she lacks is three of the white keys. She's mastered rhythm: She can tap eighth notes while I tap quarters, half notes while I tap quarters etc. She knows the difference between a brass instrument and a woodwind and can listen to music and tell me about half the time three instruments she hears in the recording.

She loves music and learning about it or I wouldn't bother filling her brain with this kind of pretty useless info. Or she liked learning about it. Until this morning when she was forced to listen to "bad" music.

I don't believe "good" and "bad" music have absolute definitions. What's good to you might not be to me. We've talked about this here before. Every generation has it's elitists who are certain they know what good and bad "art" is. Truth is what we like or label "art" or "bad" has a great deal to do with where and when we live, what we believe, what we've heard before - all this and more affects how and how well we listen and what we call what we've heard. Thats what I believe anyway. I subtly started brainwashing Gabriella to believe what I believe today.

My plan was simple. Listen to short samples of music together and talk about how they're different and the same, what we like and don't like and why we think that is. Start with ancient Greece, jump to 15th Century "chant", then on to an elaborate mass by Palestrina, then an organ prelude by Buxtehude, some Native American music, a little Samite of Uganda and finally - her favorite - a censored version of "Ain't No Other" by the American composer Christina Aguilera.

She thought the Greek music sounded "scary" and "weird". She laughed at the chant. She wanted the mass to be in English and didn't believe me when I swore they were singing "Amen." She dug the organ music because it was "fast" but didn't like that it was always "loud" and never "soft". The Native American music was "noisy" and sounded "like dogs barking." The thumb piano of Samite reminded her of wind chimes and made her want to dance, which is something she finally just got up and did when Christina wailed about her perfect man.

I tried to explain through all her critiquing and nose wrinkling that when all this music was made it was liked. People went to church and heard chant and masses and cried and smiled. They loved it as much as she loves hip-hop flavored pop music and her brother Gresham (four) likes the Foo-Fighters and Lenny Kravitz today.

"Music is always changing, " I said. "When you're old like Daddy music won't sound the way it does right now. Somebody thinks every kind of music is good. People in different places and different times make different kinds of music and like different kinds of music. Music always changes."

"I don't want it too," she whined. "I like Ain't No Other. I loooooove it."

That's essentially what an elitist is isn't it? Someone in love. Someone who doesn't want their true love to change, someone who swears, who argues vehemently that what they love is what's best, what's "good", what's "art." Someone who can't see past their own place and time and preferences. But I figure "art" is music for the loyal love struck minority who can't find anything lovable or educational or valuable in what others enjoy.

Music is evolving, always, and all of it has something to say to us and about us. If we listen.

So I'm trying to raise a listener.



Choir Of Westminster Abbey & Simon Preston - Palestrina: Missa Papae Marcelli & Allegri: Miserere
Click to listen to that mass I mentioned by Palestrina, my favorite.

6 Comments:

Blogger Kat said...

I suppose I was one of the "loyal love struck minority." Literally, from the time I was born until I was in the 7th grade, I don't think I willingly listened to anything that wasn't sung by or with Amy Grant. I slowly widened my circle to Rich Mullins (who wrote Sing Your Praise to the Lord) and Michael W. Smith (who was in Amy's band). The circle grew over the years and now, at 31, I like to think I listen to a relatively diverse group of artists. I especially love finding new indie artists on the web. It's like treasure hunting.

I think it's great that your daughter won't take 31 years to diversify her musical interests.

11/14/2006  
Anonymous Stephanie said...

I was the weirdo kid sitting in front of a turn table listening to America and Tom Petty and Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. I think that makes me elitest.

11/14/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Only if you, at the same time, said Mozart or Philip Glass or Elton John were making something that wasn't real music. Surely YOU wouldn't do that, Stephanie.

11/14/2006  
Anonymous Stephen said...

She's mastered dynamics:

She's ahead of most church musicians I know already.

11/14/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

You know, Stephen, I wonder if dynamics have been lost because of the studio. Most music we hear is recorded, compressed, then broadcast on a radio station that compresses it some more. Compression lessens the differences in dynamics - capable of making pp sound as loud to our ears as mf.

And any dynamics actually recorded are the result of thinning and thickening the texture of a piece of music (adding and subtracting musicians mostly). They're not resulting from a singer's or musician's volume control necessarily.

So, church musicians who play live music feed their ears studio music (Tomlin, Crowder, me or whomever) and don't hear or replicate dynamics live that really should be present - they're vital to musicianship. Music without dynamics, especially live, is like a conversation without body language. yea, I'll understand the data coming out of your face but I'll miss out on a great deal of how that data makes you feel, how you feel about me, etc. It's a conversation with only half the information - more importantly maybe since it's music - I'm missing emotion.

Rant over. Amen on church musicians lacking dynamics. Geez, just once I'd love to hear a truly p moment on a Sunday morning.

11/14/2006  
Anonymous euphrony said...

Speaking of dynamics, I went to hear the King's Singers last night. Now there is a group of people who truly remember what dynamics are used for - they refuse to use amplification for their concerts, so they really use their voces well. I posted a review on my blog. Good show.

It's not just among worship leaders that the loss of dynamics has occurred: I can think of only a few modern artists who play/sing at more than one level. I remember as a child in church, back when we still had song leaders instead of worship leaders, the times when he would be up there, directing the time with both hands to encourage us to sing forte and then stooping his shoulders, leaning forward slightly, and using one hand as though pushing us back to a p or pp. Don't see, or hear, that anymore.

11/17/2006  

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