Posted on

The Conductor and his Audience

David Whitwell [2017]

Writ­ten in hon­or of the retire­ment of Dr. Ronald John­son from the Uni­ver­si­ty of North­ern Iowa

On the final day of my 2017 con­duct­ing tour of Italy I took advan­tage of a rare non-pro­fes­sion­al day to vis­it the famous medieval cathe­dral in Milano. As I was sit­ting in the nave enjoy­ing a qui­et moment of con­tem­pla­tion fol­low­ing a very full five weeks of con­duct­ing and teach­ing sem­i­nars, not to men­tion the time con­sumed by trav­el itself, I began to con­sid­er my fel­low vis­i­tors to this great archi­tec­tur­al mar­vel.

The plaza before this cathe­dral is always filled with hun­dreds of vis­i­tors to Milano and a great many of them stand in very long lines wait­ing to obtain a tick­et to vis­it the cathe­dral and then in addi­tion­al long lines to actu­al­ly enter the church. Why, I began to won­der, are these hun­dreds of ordi­nary tourists, most of whom had prob­a­bly not been in any church dur­ing the past months, will­ing to stand an hour or more in lines to see the inside of this cathe­dral? To be sure, the build­ing is promi­nent­ly fea­tured in all tourist pub­li­ca­tions as one of the things to see in Milano, but is there any­thing else in Milano, save the famous paint­ing by Leonar­do, for which they would make this phys­i­cal sac­ri­fice?

Con­tin­ue read­ing The Con­duc­tor and his Audi­ence

Posted on

Right-Hemisphere Conducting, Nr. 6

How the Right-Hemisphere understands Harmony

Some­where in the dim dis­tant reach­es of my mem­o­ry I recall being told of the modes in music that minor was sad and major was hap­py. But what key is nos­tal­gia, which is often a mix­ture of the two emo­tions?

This old def­i­n­i­tion is, of course, a vast sim­pli­fi­ca­tion and with no real basis. If you stop to think about it, the key of A minor includes three major tri­ads and the key of A major has four minor tri­ads. The mate­ri­als being so sim­i­lar reminds me of the cen­turies old debate among philoso­phers on the fine line between plea­sure and pain.

Actu­al­ly, com­mon sense, sup­port­ed by clin­i­cal brain research, tells us that in fact it is melody, not har­mo­ny, which con­veys the emo­tions to the lis­ten­er.1 There appear to be spe­cif­ic melod­ic pat­terns which are sat­is­fy­ing and which come genet­i­cal­ly with birth. The great book on this sub­ject, for con­duc­tors, is the The Lan­guage of Music by Deryck Cooke (Oxford and New York: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1959). Cooke, after much study, presents a very strong case for spe­cif­ic melod­ic pat­terns which com­posers across sev­er­al cen­turies all seem to iden­ti­fy with spe­cif­ic emo­tions.

Con­tin­ue read­ing Right-Hemi­sphere Con­duct­ing, Nr. 6

  1. I acknowl­edge that all melodies have har­mon­ic rela­tion­ships. []
Posted on

Right-Hemisphere Conducting, Nr. 5

Time” is not of our World

Whoso­ev­er danceth not, knoweth not the way of life.
Jesus Christ1

Mus­cles were made for move­ment, and rhythm is move­ment.
It is impos­si­ble to con­ceive a rhythm with­out think­ing of a body in motion.
To move, a body requires a quan­tum of space and a quan­tum of time.
The begin­ning and end of the move­ments deter­mine the amount of time and space involved.
Emile Jacques-Dal­croze2

Time, as the word is used in ordi­nary con­ver­sa­tion today, does not exist in the nat­ur­al world. Time, as we used the word today, refers to an arti­fi­cial man-made reg­i­men­ta­tion of our lives and is so for­eign to our nature that we rebel against it every day, as, for exam­ple, is exem­pli­fied in our indi­vid­ual sleep require­ments.

Con­tin­ue read­ing Right-Hemi­sphere Con­duct­ing, Nr. 5

  1. Found in a Gnos­tic Hymn of the sec­ond cen­tu­ry, quot­ed in Curt Sachs, World His­to­ry of the Dance (New York: Nor­ton, 1937), 3. []
  2. Emile Jacques-Dal­croze, in Rhythm Music & Edu­ca­tion (Lon­don: Dal­croze Soci­ety, 1980), 39 []
Posted on

Right-Hemisphere Conducting, Nr. 4

When the hall is heard filled by the emotions created by the music,
whose emotions are they?”

First of all, some impor­tant facts about the emo­tions as per­tains to con­duct­ing:
1. The basic emo­tions and their expres­sion are the same for all peo­ple on earth. There is no such thing as a Chi­nese smile, a Ger­man smile, etc.

2. The basic emo­tions are genet­ic, thus they are in place before birth. The smile can be seen in the face of the fetus, but it is not a learned expres­sion for it has nev­er seen a smile.

3. Con­sid­er­ing the sev­er­al mil­lion years which span the devel­op­ment of the human species, the so-called mod­ern peri­od, our peri­od, includes the past 10,000 years. There­fore, since all the devel­op­men­tal process­es are in place, it has been spec­u­lat­ed that if one could go back to the age of the cave painters in Spain and France and adopt a new-born infant and bring him to a fam­i­ly liv­ing today, that child would grow up as a nor­mal child.

The sig­nif­i­cance of this is that Bach, Mozart and Beethoven are to be con­sid­ered iden­ti­cal to us in their emo­tion­al make­up and should not be thought of as men from some dis­tant peri­od. If the con­tem­pla­tive con­duc­tor in his study comes to iden­ti­fy a cer­tain emo­tion in some pas­sage in Mozart, it is very like­ly to be iden­ti­cal with what Mozart him­self felt. Beethoven’s Ron­do, Op. 129, “Rage over a lost pen­ny” express­es a frus­tra­tion every lis­ten­er today can iden­ti­fy with.

4. It is impor­tant to remem­ber that the com­pos­er had the feel­ing first, before he wrote notes on paper. Thus the chal­lenge for the con­duc­tor is to try and under­stand what the com­pos­er felt, not what he wrote.

Con­tin­ue read­ing Right-Hemi­sphere Con­duct­ing, Nr. 4

Posted on

Right-Hemisphere Conducting, Nr. 3

Music is not an Art Object

A num­ber of ear­ly philoso­phers debat­ed what is meant by “Art.” Do we mean by Art what the artist has in his mind, or is it the actu­al man­u­al activ­i­ty of the artist or do we mean by Art the fin­ished art object? The ear­ly Church fathers reject­ed all three, say­ing, No, the cred­it must go to God for he made the artist.

The ques­tion is even more com­pli­cat­ed, yet more inter­est­ing, when the sub­ject is Music. The ancient Greeks sep­a­rat­ed Music from the oth­er arts, pri­mar­i­ly because Music alone among them can­not be seen. This caused them to clas­si­fy paint­ing as a craft, but Music as some­thing divine.

Cer­tain­ly Music is some­thing dif­fer­ent from a Paint­ing. A Paint­ing is a past tense com­plet­ed object hang­ing on a wall, where­as Music only exists in live per­for­mance in the present tense. For this rea­son, a Paint­ing is a noun, but Music is a verb. A Paint­ing can be owned by an indi­vid­ual, but no one owns Mozart. It is for these rea­sons alone that Music must be treat­ed sep­a­rate­ly from Paint­ing and Sculp­ture. Dance is even more prob­lem­at­ic but it depends fun­da­men­tal­ly on Music. In fact, some ancient Greeks referred to Dance as the 6th part of Music, the part you could see.

Con­tin­ue read­ing Right-Hemi­sphere Con­duct­ing, Nr. 3

Posted on

Right-Hemisphere Conducting, Nr. 2

How to Write a Love Letter

For rea­sons reviewed in the first lit­tle essay in this series, here you are—the real you, trapped in the right-hemi­sphere of the brain which is mute, with respect to lan­guage, and vic­tim of an edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem which pri­mar­i­ly failed to edu­cate the real you. Tra­di­tion­al edu­ca­tion addressed itself to edu­cat­ing the left-hemi­sphere, assem­bling a moun­tain of data you can con­sult if you need to and all of it out­side your own expe­ri­ence. Tra­di­tion­al edu­ca­tion ignored, or per­haps we should say was not allowed, any edu­ca­tion­al steps for you to dis­cov­er your own emo­tion­al tem­plate. Here, of course, is the per­fect role for music edu­ca­tion, but so far music edu­ca­tors are afraid to take on this vital role. And so soci­ety leaves it to you to dis­cov­er this for your­self, even though the feel­ings you pos­sess as an indi­vid­ual will deter­mine all impor­tant choic­es in your life.

Con­tin­ue read­ing Right-Hemi­sphere Con­duct­ing, Nr. 2

  1. The right-hemi­sphere con­tains vocab­u­lary known before the age of 6 or 7, but it can­not make a sen­tence with these words. In the case of left-hemi­sphere injury, how­ev­er, the right-hemi­sphere can sing these words. []
Posted on

Right-Hemisphere Conducting, Nr. 1

Why the Students don’t listen to you in Rehearsal

In a recent paper, “Why Music Edu­ca­tion is no longer about Music,” I reviewed for the read­er the basic char­ac­ter­is­tics of our bicam­er­al brain.1 With respect to the pur­pos­es of the con­duc­tor we have a right hemi­sphere of the brain which is a depos­i­to­ry of per­son­al expe­ri­ences, includ­ing the emo­tions. Here, then, is under­stood the expe­ri­ence of pain, but it is an indi­vid­ual under­stand­ing based on a par­tic­u­lar individual’s own per­son­al expe­ri­ence with pain. It is the expe­ri­en­tial essence of the right hemi­sphere which makes that side the real us. It is there that we dif­fer with every­one else on the plan­et.

Con­tin­ue read­ing Right-Hemi­sphere Con­duct­ing, Nr. 1

  1. Since the ini­tial research which won the Nobel Prize in Med­i­cine, there has been a flood of pub­li­ca­tions which con­tin­ue to attempt to map the cir­cuits among our 3 tril­lion brain cells. All this notwith­stand­ing, the basic divi­sion of a ratio­nal left hemi­sphere and an expe­ri­en­tial right hemi­sphere remain valid. []