Sunday, February 19, 2006

notation and creation

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(Before the rest of the blog, I'd just like to interject, for the foodies in the audience, and report on the delightful breakfast I had. I made some perfect, puffy pikelets (Australian for small pancakes) out of whole-wheat flour, and then I fried in a little butter some long slices of banana. As they were frying, I sprinkled brown sugar and lime juice over them, and when they were done it had made a gooey, sugary, lime-y juice that went on the pancakes along with the bananas, and the thick Balkan yogurt I got at yesterday's market. Mmmm.. maybe I'll quit school and open a small eatery?)

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Having just spent some time entering a simple music round into the Finale program, I turn on Jamie Cullum’s CD and the piano intro to his song “All at Sea” sounds so complex and wonderful, compared with the little plinks of the notes I was just listening to intently. Music is actually quite intricate, but we don’t realize it until we deconstruct it, try to make our own, or learn parts of a song to put together. This is something I’ve learned about voice, through singing with the choir. Before I joined it, my only singing experience was around campfires or in the shower, and I knew I could sing and was good at it, but much like a painter or visual artist before training at all, my singing had the marks of roughness on it. It still does—by no means am I a “trained singer”. But now, knowing a little how to read music sheets (there’s only so far I can go, not knowing how to read music) and how to use my voice like an instrument along with other people, the world of music, and the actual complexity of pieces that seem so simple to an ear unused to picking out pieces, opens up a little. It’s quite neat.

The choir, by the way, is something I keep thinking is expendable, something I would quit if I got too busy. Then I go to a Tuesday night practice and begin learning a new piece, get stumped by the challenges of learning an Alto line with little knowledge of what the black dots and lines actually stand for, then learn it, sing it along with the other altos, then put it together with the other parts, half-listening to my own part and to the piece as a whole, and I get a thrill inside at the harmony of the voices. “It sounds like it was meant to be this way!” The little girl in me thinks, each time. I could never give this up; even with all the challenges and irritations that sometimes accompany choir practice, it feeds a part of my soul that I nourish no other way.

This semester, Signe (the director, also a student; her name is pronounced Seen-a) asked some of us to try our hand at directing a piece. Like I said, I don’t read music, but even so I said “sure” (I’m positive that way). I’m doing “Lovely Evening”, a simple round in three parts, and even that I was scared of, at first. The usual fears: “What if I mess up?” But it’s one I know well, and it’s really just a matter of bobbing my hands to the time, and following the melody line in a way only directors do, in order to bring the other voices in. Besides, the other four girls have harder pieces, so I can feel like the kindergardner to their Grade Sixers, and learn from it.

What’s funny is that after spending a half hour in Finale, something at which I’m quite new, painstakingly entering notes and figuring out how it works, messing up and having to work my way out of a mistake, then I switch to Word to write this blog post, and in comparison Word seems also like a notation program, but one in which I’m quite experienced. And in a way, that’s what it is—I use Word so often to create papers, write letters, or what have you, and am adept enough to use keyboard shortcuts and know my way around. Each letter is like a little note sign, and together they form measures, and the whole thing together is a sort of song, which will be interpreted by the reader.

If I could play an instrument, interested people or quizzes sometimes ask, what would it be? I usually say piano, or cello. But really, I’d love to learn any instrument. I think, like voice, it would only deepen my knowledge of this new world, notation and creation.

If you could learn any instrument, what would it be? Or do you already create music in some fashion? What does music mean to you?

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