Sunday, June 28, 2009

Music and Heart Rhythms

Here's a story on some research getting at little more detail on the connection between music and cardiovascular rhythms.

>>researchers found that healthy adults' heart rate, blood pressure and blood flow changed in response to musical crescendos and decrescendos<<

>>The phrases, from two pieces by Verdi, were about 10 seconds long, Bernardi's team notes, which is similar to the standard oscillations in blood pressure. In contrast, a more "intellectual" solo singing piece by Bach had relatively little effect on cardiovascular rhythms.<<

>>the cardiovascular responses were seen even in the absence of emotional responses to the music and altered breathing was not necessary to see cardiovascular effects.<<

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Here's part of a note I wrote to Judy, who can't make the Fourth performances, so hasn't been coming to rehearsals, explaining how the lack of percussion really makes a big difference:

>>It adds great energy to the music. One friend of mine I've known for 40 years and who is very musical, kept drumming and dancing his fingers in time to the Butterfly Music the entire time the CD played. Another old friend from Shenandoah talked about how "happy" that CD is. And when she first put on the Doris Music CDs, she says she got up and danced to them.

Having you take care of the rhythm allows everyone else to ease into the flow and be more musical in other ways. It makes the rhythm more solid, but it also allows it to be more complex as we all react to it in different ways. I want to say it's like framing a painting, but it's way more than that. More like the armature in clay.

Not having you here was a revelation that the tubas and baritone weren't getting their instruments to speak with good tone right at the instant of the downbeat, because with you there's no need as you've been filling that instant with various percussive sounds. They're picking up the slack nicely, and it's good practice for them, but with you, it's all much easier.<<

Monday, June 22, 2009

Grace & Gesture

Here's Terry Teachout's latest Almanac entry:

>>"When a person expends the least amount of motion on one action, that is grace."

Anton Chekhov, letter to Maxim Gorky (Jan. 3, 1899)<<

I keep having the notion that gesture is a primal aspect of music making that's not often talked about. It seems to be the best way of talking about how emotional content is communicated from music maker to audience. This quote helps me think about how some music makers communicate better than others. No matter what emotion the gesture is meant to convey, the less extraneous motion, the better it will probably be conveyed to most audience members.

It also ties into the notion of authenticity.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Emotions & Musicians

Here's a post over on  Expressing the inexpressible...? that both the horn blogs I follow mentioned. In the post and comments, high end performers talk about how many bitter people they encounter in their world and cover the subject pretty thoroughly. There seems to be agreement that during the actual music making everything is copacetic, but that things can get fractious during all the down time.

My first thought was that some musicians have personalities that need a carapace of some kind to deal with the vulnerability expressing all those emotions on cue requires. That lead to remembering that quote Terry Teachout put up of Noël Coward's about actors not actually feeling all emotions every performance, or they wouldn't be "acting". 

There's probably a full range from fully feeling all the emotions of the music while making it, to mere, but effective simulation. There's that great quote (Sam Goldwyn?), "If you can fake sincerity, you've got it made".

Lots to think about. Just wanted to save the link and jot down a few first impressions. This all ties into the Phil Ford posts on ego and being in the flow, as well as maestro trying to get us to play with audience stirring enthusiasm.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Players for the 4th

Here are the players for our 4th of July performances at the Picnic in the Park. Front row, that's Gabby on the left with her baritone and Bill C. on the right with "Boris" the tuba, with me and the banjo in the middle. Second row is Bill B. with soprano sax and Maggie with clarinet. Third row standing, on the left in his straw boater with his tuba is Crawford and Dick with his trumpet on the right.


Here lately, Kyle Gann over at PostClassic has been putting up some of his best posts ever. This post in particular, where he talks about interviewing Robert Ashley, really helps me understand what the current new music folks are up to. Here's a quote from Ashley that, for me, is a very fresh take on the nature of music.

 >>I was never interested in eventfulness. I was only interested in sound. I mean, just literally, sound in the Morton Feldman sense.... There's a quality in music that is outside of time, that is not related to time. And that has always fascinated me... That's sort of what I'm all about, from the first until the most recent. A lot of people are back into eventfulness. But it's very boring. Eventfulness is really boring.<<

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Audience Participation

One of the things those working to get more warm bodies attending classical concerts are suggesting is audience participation via Twittering during performances. A. C. Douglas over at Sounds & Fury is not in favor, to put it mildly. In this post he has a wonderful quote from Hilary Hahn on the subject, which I really like because it gets over into that ESP territory that music can induce. He found the quote in this post over on Life's a Pitch.

>>The problem is that acoustic performers rely on the audience's attention and focus and can tell when the audience isn't mentally present. Your listening is part of our interpretive process. If you're not really listening, we're not getting the feedback of energy from the hall, and then we might as well be practicing for a bunch of people peering in the window. It's just not as interesting when the cycle of interpretation is broken.<<

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Here's a story about how REM sleep can help solve problems, with Keith Richards and Mozart mentions, and this quote:

>>She theorizes that it's a time when the brain's neocortex, the part of its gray matter associated with thinking, is free to integrate fresh information and malleable ideas and memories into a new synthesis: a eureka moment. The process works especially well for musicians, scientists and artists whose challenges are analogous to the neocortex's, Mednick said. That is, to make new connections among bits and pieces of familiar elements.<<

Friday, June 5, 2009

Therapeutic Music

Here's a post over on Sounds & Fury touching on how little we understand how it is music can help us. In this case the music of a composer not usually liked does the trick.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Having Fun Unamplified

The Kenwood Players have recently done three performances that were well received, the latest being the fund raiser for Celebrate Orange. Not using amplification seems to let the audience enjoy themselves more than they would if they were having to talk over the amplified sound. We can play and sing loudly enough to be clearly heard while the audience can visit comfortably with one another. By not blasting the audience with amplified sound, we seem to be encouraging more actively engaged listening.

The other thing is the having fun part. I've always moved with the music when playing the guitar and banjo. It makes performing more fun for me, and it also was the way I "conducted" the music in my music therapy sessions. After Dixie performances I always get people saying how they get a kick out of watching me have fun making music. With the Kenwood Players I think there's more of that because we're in the Preservation Hall mode of improvising our way along, which is a really fun thing to do, but also is another way for attentive audience members to see how we're having fun trying different ways of playing the songs.

Recorded music changed performed music in lots of ways having to do with setting high expectations and the putting the focus on creating "definitive" interpretations of music. What a live performance can do better than recorded music is to transmit to the audience - through sound, gesture, attitude and general behavior - the fun and fellowship we're having making the music, which adds a therapeutic dimension to live music.

Simulation of Feeling

Terry Teachout's blog is full of great stuff, both in the regular postings and the collections in the side bar. One thing he does is a daily quote, and here's today's:

"I very much disapprove of the adage that you have to feel the performance completely every night on the stage. This is technically an impossibility, and really is the negation of the art of acting. The art of acting, after all, is not actual feeling but simulation of feeling, and it is impossible to feel a strong emotional part eight performances a week, including two matinées."
Noël Coward, "The Art of Acting" (The Listener, Oct. 12, 1961)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Music As Medicine

This link is to an MSNBC story that rounds up some of the current uses of music as medicine. One item in it I hadn't previously come across is:

>>But what surprised Conrad is that the patients also showed a 50 percent spike in pituitary growth hormone, which is known to stimulate healing.<<