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Right-Hemisphere Conducting, Nr. 6

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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.

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  1. I acknowledge that all melodies have harmonic relationships. []
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Right-Hemisphere Conducting, Nr. 5

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“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.

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  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 []
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Right-Hemisphere Conducting, Nr. 4

Contemporary music for concert band

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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.

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Right-Hemisphere Conducting, Nr. 3

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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.

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Right-Hemisphere Conducting, Nr. 2

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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,1 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.

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  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. []
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Right-Hemisphere Conducting, Nr. 1

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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.

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  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. []
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On the Significance of the Title

Contemporary music for concert band

Reprinted from “On the Significance of the Title,” The NBA Journal, Vol. LV, Nr. 2, Winter, 2015.

In April 2015, I will be conducting an all-city honor band in San Diego and have programmed Wagner’s beautiful arrangement of the music of von Weber known today as Trauermusik, a work I like to program to demonstrate to other conductors and students the artistic freedom they are allowed with respect to Time. But as I began to think about these young musicians I would be making music with, I began to wonder if the title itself, Trauermusik, would play an undue influence on their thinking. The word trauer, which does not translate well into English, in German means “mourning” or “grief,” emotions which do not represent well the actual music of von Weber which Wagner selected to arrange for wind band. At this point in the opera, Euryanthe is alone in the forest, meditating on life and death but any sense of grief has more to do with having lost her lover, Adolar.

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Tenuto and Fermata: Rebels Against the Tyranny of Notation

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For a million years or more, singers and instrumentalists playing on natural instruments made music freely with the sole goal of expressing their feelings. But once notation appeared the “rules” of music began to be addressed to the eye rather than the ear. The creation of bar lines in the eleventh century created units of time itself which lent to the eye the apparent rule that music must be contained within these units and the freedom of the ancient musicians was now lost for good. The subsequent history of notation was a constant effort to allow an escape from these preset units of time, including such things as colored notation and Proportional notation. By the time of the Baroque composers such as Praetorius and Frescobaldi began to write “just ignore the notation; play faster or slower as you desire.” And by the eighteenth century it is amazing to see the lengths composers such as Haydn went to to write music that fell between those bar lines, but sounded as if it were in an entirely different meter or tempo. By the advent of music schools in the nineteenth century a new rigidity became the rule and as a result today no student believes he is entitled to expand a measure of music in performance solely on the basis of his feelings.

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Why Music Education is no longer about Music

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On the Nature of Music

There are three important characteristics of music, which I think most people would agree with.

  1. Music is for the ear. We do not eat music, nor smell music, nor see music. In our modern age we call what we see on paper, “music,” but it is not. What is on paper is in part a symbol of music, but it is a symbol of only the grammar of music. There are no symbols on the paper for feeling or emotions, which is the real role of music.
  2. Music exists only in live performance before a listener. A recording is not music. The recording bears the same relationship to music as does a photograph to a real person.
  3. The purpose of music is to understand and communicate emotions. While everyone understood this for thousands of years, it became clear with the modern clinical findings on our bicameral brain. The right brain, where the experimental and personal emotions lie, is mute.1 It cannot make a sentence. The left brain, a depository of secondary data, includes language, but when it comes to talking about music or writing about music, as is clearly also true with the emotions of love, the left brain is tasked with writing about something it knows nothing about. Thus the importance of music—a language of feeling which can be heard and understood by all.

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  1. Continuing research since Dr. Sperry’s Nobel Prize winning research on split-brain patients may have caused some lack of confidence in some readers, for it demonstrates more and more the complex cross wiring in the three trillion cells of our brain. However the basic fact of the bicameral brain remains clear, the left side designed for data and the right side for personal experiential understanding. []
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On the Maxime Principle


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In a communication we recently received from Professor Maxime in Paris, she encouraged all instrumentalists to begin thinking of the Italian piano and forte symbols to mean relative degrees of emotional intensity and not the standard practice of indicating only “soft” and “loud” sound.

This recommendation, that the piano and forte symbols should reflect “emotional intensity,” is perhaps a bit startling for those of us who have been taught that the purpose of these symbols was to reflect only the degrees of loudness or softness of the actual volume of sound itself. For those who believe that the sole purpose of music is the communication of feeling and emotions, Professor Maxime’s principle is a welcome reminder that in earlier times the piano and forte symbols were also associated with feeling and were often the responsibility of the performer, not the composer. But the symbols are introduced to us today as being of an objective character with no discussion of how these symbols are related to feeling. While Professor Maxime speaks of “emotional intensity,” we relegate these symbols to the status of being only “dynamic markings.”

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