Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Magister Ludi

The Herman Hesse book Magister Ludi (The Glass Bead Game) was a great read for me several decades ago. The idea of game play being more than child's play has stuck with me. This post over on Musical Assumptions got me to thinking about it again and I made this comment:

>>Just before reading this post was practicing flute, working up a couple of Handel bourrées. Getting the rhythms and flourishes to flow naturally and feel danceably "right" is a sort of physical game play. When you play the flippers right on a pin ball machine, it lights up. Get a bourrée right and it jumps off the page and comes alive. Not exactly software, but your post reminded me of the feeling.<<

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


The very first drafts of the music learning materials, which were done back in the early 90's, included a section on gesture, as it seems a key to better understanding music making. Dynamics and articulations and tone qualities and rhythms can all be felt as gestures made audible. It's always been mysterious to me that the work of Manfred Clynes, what he calls "sentics", has never been taken up by music therapists or educators.

In some recent posts there's talk of the false dualism of mind and body, and it seems gesture is such a seamless blend of the two it's a way of breaking out of the categories.

Here's a link to a post on Boing Boing that has the following quote:

Talking with your hands as you speak helps you get your point across to the people you're talking to. But new research suggests gesturing can help you think too. For example, students who gestured while discussing math problems were better at learning how to solve the problems.... Now, researchers from the University of Chicago and University of Iowa are trying to figure out the relationship between gestures and abstract mental processes.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Quantum Music

Here's the conclusion to this article in the Wall Street Journal about how quantum physics keeps proving out to be "spooky".

Based on quantum behavior, Dr. d'Espagnat's big idea is that science can only probe so far into what is real, and there's a "veiled reality" that will always elude us.

Many scientists disagree. While Dr. d'Espagnat concedes that he can't prove his theory, he argues that it's about the notion of mystery. "The emotions you get from listening to Mozart," he says, "are like the faint glimpses of ultimate reality we get" from quantum experiments. "I claim nothing more."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Music and the Brain

Here's a link to a long newspaper story about one of the main brain scientists looking at music and the brain, a man by the name of Petr Janata.

Here's one quote - "Research reveals that when people perform music together or listen to it, their bodies release oxytocin—a trust or bonding hormone".

And another -  “The more we like music, the more we move to it, and the more we move to it, the more pleasure we feel. Music stimulates the release of dopamine—the so-called feel-good hormone.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Synesthetic Gesture

Just came across this over on Boing Boing, a post about a book on synesthesia has this quote form the author:

For example, sight, sound, and movement normally map to one another so closely that even bad ventriloquists convince us that whatever moves is doing the talking. Likewise, cinema convinces us that dialogue comes from the actors' mouths rather than the surrounding speakers. Dance is another example of cross-sensory mapping in which body rhythms imitate sound rhythms kinetically and visually. We so take these similarities for granted that we never question them the way we might doubt colored hearing.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Playing Outside

Yesterday the Players performed outside for the annual hospice butterfly release fund raiser, this year down at the Locust Grove campus of Germanna. The weather was sparkling clear and the temp right at 70 degrees, with a nice breeze that was an occasional bluster and clothes pins were needed to hold the music. Every so often there's low wind noise on the recording even though I'd put a foam cover over the mics.

Among the things learned was why Handel scored things so high in the ranges of the instruments in his outdoor music. The bourrée and minuet we did in the original keys went fairly well. Summer Is Icumin In and Dindirìn, dindirìn which I'd put in keys easy for the band instruments didn't go as well, mainly to my not being able to play the flute cleanly with good projecting tone. Indoors they sound fine, but outdoors the lower pitches just didn't carry. I also didn't figure out until halfway through the flute pieces that turning just a bit to one side kept the wind from interfering with my air stream.

I played horn on two minuets and two hymns and that went OK. We did four spirituals with me on banjo and they went very well. Playing with the Dixies, and the two recent sessions with Dave have all helped me refine the strumming. I was doing my regular moving with the music (only sit when playing the horn) and had a number of children dancing and a few adults swaying with the rhythms. Sang without amplification which reduced tonal nuance, but makes things a lot easier on the roadie side of things.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


In all kinds of ways great and small, making music involves the interplay of what Jung categorized as the areas of thinking, feeling, intuition and sensation. Because of my working a lot with the horn here lately I've come to realize just how important proprioception is in creating the sounds you want. To get the right note on a horn, the required proprioception of the embouchure is extremely detailed, but on any instrument it's a vital component to good technique.

Here's a post by Phil Ford where he talks about our perceiving dualisms that aren't really there. In trying to explain to people how to go about developing their talents and skills as music makers, part of it is talking about things in isolation (fingering, dynamics, tone, intonation, etc.), but the deep coherence of well played music comes from an appreciation and manifestation of what back in the 60's was being called the gestalt. The feedback loops within and among the areas of thinking, feeling, intuition, and sensation become so intertwined and complex our consciousness no longer needs or heeds the categories. And every so often the categories of the music maker and the music may fade as well.

Brain Wave Entrainment

A friend forwarded to me an except from a newsletter sent out by Dr. Andrew Weil. I've felt for years he's been one of best of the alternative medicine doctors, and have and use a number of books he's written. My 1990 edition of his Natural Health, Natural Medicine has a great section at the end called "A Treasury of Home Remedies for Common Ailments" where he lays out approaches to try before heading out to the doctor. 

Here's his well written summary of a recent study:

Study author Ulman Lindenberger of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin and his co-investigators looked at electrical activity in the brains of eight pairs of guitarists. They monitored patterns of brain waves as the musicians played a short jazz-fusion melody together up to 60 times, and published their findings in the journal BMC Neuroscience.

The study reported that the frontal and central regions of the guitarists’ brains synchronized to a high degree. But, more surprisingly, the temporal and parietal regions also showed significant synchronization in more than half of the pairs. These regions may be involved in simply enjoying the music, researchers suggested.

To my mind, this study highlights one of the great joys of playing music, one voiced by many musicians: a sense of self-transcendence. Playing music together creates a rare chance to step outside of ourselves and our small concerns and join our minds wholeheartedly with others in creating something no individual could make alone. Seen in this light, creating beautiful music is simply a wonderful byproduct of a larger reward – connecting deeply with other human beings.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Mantra Mountain

Pliable at On An Overgrown Path recently put up this post on the CD I did with Lama Tashi and some friends couple of years back. He really understands what we were up to, has some very nice things to say about the project, and puts the CD in a context I hadn't fully appreciated before.

One of the aspects of music therapy I most enjoy is helping people use music for spiritual purposes, so making this CD was very satisfying. Pliable's coining the phrases "lean forward" and "lean back" to describe two kinds of music is very helpful. I think that for music to be successfully used in a spiritual way, on some level it needs to be "lean forward" music. For Mantra Mountain this is a subtle attribute, where when singing along with Just A Closer Walk it is much more evident.

Warming Up

Bruce over at Horndog blog was good enough to answer some questions I had about warming up on horn, down in the comments to this post of his.

All the instructional materials I've found talk about the warm up and how important it is, but none actually explain what is happening physiologically. They give all kinds of things to do, but don't talk about why or how those particular exercises work. I've essentially been starting over with the horn, and rethinking all the aspects of playing, and that led me to realizing how little I understand what warming up is actually is all about. And not being a natural player, the more I understand what I'm trying to do, the better chance I have of doing it.

I'd always thought starting with low and sustained notes was the way to go, but here lately starting in the middle and working out, with lots of tongued notes in the mix with all the slurs seems to be working a lot better. I've also noticed that practicing the flute first for 40 minutes or so takes care of about 80% of the horn warm up. 

Something else I've noticed is that having a balanced mix of sound from p to ff helps me keep things focused. Also, taking a few 20 to 30 second breaks early on seems to be helpful.

As to explaining what the warm up does, for now I'd say it involves increased blood flow, better proprioception and muscular control of the lips and embouchure, along with better proprioception and limbering up of all the physical elements involved playing the horn - diaphragm, throat and tongue, fingers on keys and hand in bell, etc. Playing music involves a lot of feedback loops, on both the conscious and
unconscious levels, and in and among the physical, mental, emotional and, sometimes, the spiritual levels. The warm up is getting all of that up and running in an orderly way.