Have you ever been to a concert where the performance gave you chills, made your hair stand on end, or even brought you to tears? There are many things that have to line up musically in order for this to happen.
Firstly, the composer has to write the piece well. Hopefully the piece is written well technically, but the musicality of the piece is key to the emotional reaction. Next, the performer has to be able to play the piece accurately. But again, the musicality of the musician will bring the piece from mediocrity to excellence. Lastly, the audience has to be open and receptive to the music.
Musicality is the emotional interpretation of the music, and shaping is an extremely important facet in bringing life to the music. Shaping is what makes the music feel like it is going somewhere. The composer can shape the music with orchestration, texture, range, melodic line, tempo changes, and by writing in dynamics and articulations. The performers must follow the directions in the score and artfully add their own interpretations to bring the piece to the next level.
Sometimes, especially in a long piece of music, it can be difficult to see the overall shape of the music. Young musicians especially have a hard time figuring out where the climax of the piece is or when to play timid and quiet or deliberate and bold. Composers also may have a hard time figuring out where their piece is going or whether there is a direction in their music.
One particularly good way to visualize the music is to make a music map. I learned this in my first real composition lesson when I was going to visit colleges to attend, and it still helps by composition process today. It is very helpful for composing, but it can also be a great tactic for teaching musicality.
It is quite simple; it works like a graph. Intensity is on the left and time runs along the bottom. Dots are placed at a certain level of intensity, which is determined by dynamic level, texture, and other possible musical aspects. For example, if a single instrument is playing pianissimo, the dot will be toward the bottom of the page, and if the entire orchestra is playing a fortissimo, the dot will be at the top of the page. When all the dots are placed along the duration of the piece, connect them with a line, and this will show the shape of the entire piece.
Here is an example using a short piece I wrote for solo unaccompanied violin. This is a highly emotional piece inspired by Romani music. In the music map, you can see the dramatic changes in emotion, the clear climax, and the overall shape of the piece. Follow along with the recording.
Find the other two Romani Caprices available to listen for free on sound cloud.
by Anna Brake, composer and author of Music Trends of the 21st Century, available now on amazon.
Kansas City is all about baseball lately. As of last night, the Royals are going to be in the World Series for the second year in a row. Last year everyone was predicting a win against the Giants by comparing all the similarities between the lead up to their last win in 1985 and the road to the World Series in 2014. The Royals ended up losing the Championship last year, but this year they have another chance.
Much of baseball is about being able to try over and over again. Unlike in other sports, the teams play each other multiple times in a row before moving on to the next team. Even if a game is lost, it doesn’t mean the series is a failure. The batter gets multiple chances to hit the ball, and the pitcher gets even more chances to throw a ball inside the zone. And when the pitcher isn’t performing that well, he’ll usually get some chances to make up for it before the next pitcher comes in to replace him.
Fans, especially, give athletes extra opportunities to play well. We give our team and our favorite players the benefit of the doubt. We like to give them chances to make up for a bad throw, a sloppy play, a lost game or even a disappointing year. We want to see them win and will keep cheering for them until they do.
With the fine arts, this is a different story. If a soloist is up on stage and blanks on memory, we conclude that he must be a bad musician. If a performer obviously hits the wrong note, we scoff at her abilities, and if an orchestra doesn’t manage to stay together, we conclude that they have no talent. There is immense pressure to be perfect as a musician, and professional artists get paid a miniscule amount compared to their imperfect, athletic counterpoints (but that is a topic for another blog post).
Not only do professional musicians get judged harshly, but any person playing music is held to a certain standard. Many people believe that they are not good enough to play at all because of this conventional thought. As David Levitin, neuroscientist and musician, writes, “why is it that millions of people who take music lessons as children, relatively few continue to play music as adults? [. . .] people tell me that they love music listening, but their music lessons ‘didn’t take.’ I think they’re being too hard on themselves. The chasm between musical experts and everyday musicians that has grown so wide in our culture makes people feel discouraged, and for some reason this is uniquely so with music. Even though most of us can’t play basketball like Shaquille O’Neal, or cook like Julia Child, we can still enjoy playing a friendly backyard game of hoops, or cooking a holiday meal for our friends and family.”[i] Why are we so hard on ourselves when it comes to music? Even with people who have never played an instrument before, anyone, no matter what their age, still has a chance to bring music into their life.
Furthermore, how much of a chance do we give to music outside the typical music we bring into our life through listening? Most people have a set genre or genres that they feel comfortable with; oftentimes, it is the music that they grew up with, the music they listened to as teenagers. In many cases people will maybe hear one or two songs of a certain genre and dismiss it. I have heard many people claim that they do not like rap music, and yes, maybe they do not prefer to listen to whatever rap artist they heard on the radio (who could blame them), but I’m certain that they haven’t listened to much beyond that. People tend to judge entire genres based on one artist, or even just a song or two. But, there are different styles within genres, there are good and bad artists within genres, and not all rap music is crude (or too repetitive or whatever reason someone may have for not giving it a chance). Especially in the case of new art music or contemporary composers, many people assume they don’t like it because they haven’t heard much, but there are so many people writing so many different styles that it would be hard not to find at least one piece or even one composer that you like (if you actually searched for it).
So, the next time you are watching your favorite sports team, think about how you can be a better music fan. Give performers the benefit of the doubt, give yourself a chance at being a musician (no matter how amateur), and seek the adrenaline of finding a new genre or piece of music the way you yearn for that rush you get from cheering for a winning team. Oh, and also, go Royals!
By Anna Brake
Find out more ways to bring music into your life by reading Music Trend of the 21st Century: Technology Influencing Culture. Now available here on amazon in print and as an ebook.
[i] Daniel Levitin, This Is Your Brian on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession (New York: Dutton, 2006), 189-90.
It’s October, which means this is the beginning of holiday season! We love excuses to celebrate! We take a break from work to dress up in costumes, hand out candy, say thanks, eat yummy food, light candles, say prayers, decorate, give gifts, receive gifts, kiss our loved one at midnight, and make goals for another year. Doing rituals together is something that makes us human.
We celebrate people too. Even though everyone has a birthday every year, we make time to celebrate it—why not? We spend lots of time and money to celebrate weddings and births despite the fact that these are still very common events—why not? Graduation is one of the few events that we celebrate based on a person’s merits, but ironically, we tend to make a bigger deal out of high school graduation than the attainment of a doctorate.
If we love celebrating so much, why do we contain our festivities to religious and established traditions? When was the last time you sent a card to someone for putting on an art show? Did you make a feast for your friend who choreographed an entire dance recital? Have you ever thrown a shower for someone who put out an album? Did you buy a gift for your friend who just put on a concert?
Art is an important part of life, and artists spend dozens to hundreds to thousands of hours creating whatever it is they make. They often spend their own money for projects and put more effort into them than anything else. After all of that time, money, and passion, they are the ones to bring refreshments to their recital or provide catering for their show. Then, they get some likes on Facebook and hear “cool” and “sounds nice,” yet they still have piles of CDs or prints piled up at home.
So to all my friends who have accomplished artistic pursuits, I am sorry if I didn’t celebrate you enough. I’m not going to say, “You should be proud of yourself,” because you already are. I’m saying, “We should all be proud of you.” Congratulations, you deserve to be celebrated!
And for all of us who have talented and motivated people in our lives, let’s give gifts, cards, candy, and throw parties for those who spend hours, dollars, and energy to bring more enjoyment, thoughtfulness, and art into our lives. They are worthy of celebration.
By Anna Brake
Why is music important to you? You may have several answers, or it may be difficult to be able to actually come up with a series of words that can accurately describe what it is that makes music significant. It may be as simple as the fact that it makes you happier, or it may only be explained as something that assuages a yearning.
I personally have a laundry list of reasons why music must be in my life, but one of the biggest reasons is that it gives me a place in society. Not only do I identify myself as a musician and composer, but also I feel like I am in on some sort of secret that only other musicians understand. I can play music with others, share my works with people, and even just attend a musical event and feel as if I belong to something bigger than myself. As Daniel Levitin writes in This is Your Brain on Music, “Collective music making may encourage social cohesions—humans are social animals, and music may have historically served to promote feelings of group togetherness and synchrony.”[i] Larry Parsons, a neuroscientist, did an experiment on how the brain reacts when musicians play together and discovered that the areas of the brain controlling phrasing, coordination, and cognitive and emotional interaction were more active when the musicians played together rather than alone. He concludes, “Music is intrinsically social.”[ii]
Unfortunately, there are many reasons why music no longer has a premier place in many people’s lives. Lack of music funding prevents many kids from being involved in music. The ability to download music for free gives many people the idea that they shouldn’t have to pay for music, which in turn leaves many musicians without much income; this puts many musicians in a position to decide whether to “get a real job” (something that pays well), rather than following their calling. As discussed in my first blog entry, “The Gap,” many technologies have caused a disconnect between composers and performers and musicians and audiences.
Music has the potential to bring people closer together. “Music’s original functions of underlining the significance of public events and promoting social solidarity continue to this day,” states Anthony Storr, “those who engage in [music] know that making music together is an irreplaceable way of achieving closeness.”[iii] Let’s share why music is important to us and strengthen the bond that music creates.
By Anna Brake
Get ideas on how to bring more music into your life in Music Trends of the 21st Century
[i] Daniel J. Levitin, This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession (New York: Dutton, 2006), 252.
[ii] Elena Mannes, The Power of Music: Pioneering Discoveries in the New Science of Song, (New York: Walker & Company, 2011), 38.
[iii] Anthony Storr, Music and the Mind, (New York: Free Press, 1992), 108.