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by Keith Hill, 2017


.......about rhythmic regularity in dance movements, and in general, a question I have been asking myself for almost 50 years.  Here is my conclusion.


There are only three types of music.  One, music intended to be listened to. Two, music intended only to be heard.  And three, music intended only to be viewed.  This last type I don't really consider to be music because it involves only the eyes...specifically almost all music composed after the end of tonality. One might argue with this last comment but the reality is that atonal music is unsuccessful at engaging audiences...indeed, it rather alienates them.


So what is the difference between music intended to be listened to and music intended to be heard?  The answer is metricity.  


Regular meter in music puts the brain to sleep, this means that it is only intended to be heard for the purpose of marching, dancing, beating time to, etc.  

Music that is intended to be listened to by the cultivated and uncultivated ear requires a wholly different attitude in performance.  Specifically, that the performer must do everything in his or her power to prevent the brain from being put to sleep by the repetitiousness of regular meter.  

To accomplish this, Bach, according to F. Griepenkerl, in this quote from a letter he wrote and which has been published, "Bach himself, his sons, and Forkel played the masterpieces with such a profound declamation that they sounded like polyphonic songs sung by individual great artist singers.  Thereby, all means of good singing were brought into use.  No cercare, No portamento was missing, even breathing was in all the right places.  Bach's music wants to be sung with the maximum of art."  

Bach himself urges players to acquire a cantabile style.  


Therefore, a previously existing and subsequently-made-extinct style of playing music, the cantabile style needs to be revived, not merely revisited by players of all tonal musics.  

This means that each player needs to acquire a way of expressing music that is typical of individual great artist singers.  The one single overarching shared feature of every truly great artist singer is that he or she sings the meaning of the musical thought of the composer, not merely the notes and their obligatory metrical constructs.  

Composers are relegated to writing music in meter but their thoughts actually have no meter.  That is the difference, as you will, between speech and thought.


Speech actually has meter...but thought does not.  Thought has flow.  So when CPE Bach wrote: "Maintain strict time." From knowing how he played the masterpieces, he very clearly meant "Maintain strict flow."  Because in music meant to be listened to, it is paramount that those listening and those performing never lose the train of thought, lest the performance collapse into disintegration.  


Therefore, every voice must express the musical thought appropriate to the notes provided for it to sing.  If this means that every voice is singing a different affect to properly express the notes provided by the composer then that is how the music should be performed.  

The mere fact that some people have a problem with this way of making music is due to their preconceived notion about how the greatest musical thoughts of composers from the past ought to be played, which has actually nothing at all to do with how the music from those great composers was intended to be played by the composers themselves.


In this new direction, every effort needs to be made to take special care of how it is being perceived by the brain when listening.  Failure to do this will ultimately give way to one's preconceptions, which as we now know produces an almost complete obliteration of audiences for the great music of the past over the last 80 years.  

From a brain point of view, only what is immediately interesting is capable of keeping it awake.  And more importantly, from a brain point of view, the normal human brain can and loves to follow the music of six completely independently expressive voices or events happening simultaneously.  (That is why the rock band, Dixie land bands have six parts.)


I personally find it effortless to follow all the voices simultaneously when they are played both independently and expressive of the musical thought.  I also find music that is played metrically to be hopelessly and instantly boring.  

That is why I side with all those people who hate classical music.  They are the ones who are right.  Classically trained musicians are wrong as they keep playing expressive music inexpressive because they can't extricate themselves from the mediocre music student mindset of playing the notes accurately, metrically, all to be heard according to how it appears on the printed page.


Normal intelligent human beings find that way of making music to be intimidating and boring at the same time...intimidating in that they feel guilty for failing to be interested, and boring because the music fails to be interesting enough.


Keith Hill - Instrument Maker

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