Old World or New, Sacred or Profane

Monday, January 15, 2007

Teamwork: the 4th Element?

In a very basic music theory or appreciation class, one learns that the essential elements of music are rhythm, melody, and harmony. Rhythm evokes tension and release in the mind of the listener by a series of tones that come to rest on an agogic accent. Melody evokes tension and release by combining the rhythm with a curve of successive prominent pitches that come to a rest at the end of a phrases. Harmony evokes tension and release by the perceived instability and stability of simultaneous, or near simultaneous, tones.

And that's enough to call it music. No more is strictly necessary.

But I suggest there is another element that many of us crave from music. I think of it as teamwork. It's not all that different from the sort of teamwork one sees on the sports field. The changes of musical focus: anticipation, cooperation, resolution; produce an ebb and flow not unlike the tension and release produced by the other elements.

In the Banshee in the Kitchen! workshop one could hear how ebb and flow affect their decision making. Three players - three inter-player relationships. Each player's decision on what to play cannot be made in a vacuum, the relationships to the other two players must be considered.

They might not like me saying so, but their workshop reminded me of the 30-some year old P.D.Q. Bach "New Horizons in Music Apprciation" skit. It's a "concert-cast" of the 1st movement of Beethoven's 5th symphony. If you've never heard it, you just must go order it now! Peter Shickele and Robert Dennis provide a play-by-play running commentary on the composition and performance as if it were a ball game. Absolutely hysterical!

As farcical as it is, it speaks truth. There is a game going on there on the stage. The "ball," i.e. musical focus, moves from section to section, with tension and release between players and sections as they follow the game plan. And when it all works, it is a joy to behold.

It's been quite a few years since I've heard it, but some lines still stand out in my memory. Below I attempt to recall and paraphrase some excerpts that remain lodged in my mind:

Orchestra: Ta-ta-ta-taaaaa... Do-do-do-doooo...

Shickle: "And they're OFF on a four-note theme!

Orchestra continues....

Shickle: "Oh, it's very exciting. The start of a symphony is always very exciting, but I don't know if it's slow or fast yet because it keeps stopping!"

. . .

French horn warbles on entrance...

Shickele: "Wow, Bob, did you hear that! That horn player really fumbled that note. I think that was number 61, wasn't it, Bob?"

Dennis: "Yes, Pete, that was Bobbie Corno and that's his 4th major flub of the season, which gives him a solo average of .8753 which is pretty darn low for a 1st chair player, but he's popular with the fans and he's really strong in the long concertos, so maybe they'll keep him around for another season, on the other hand..."

. . .

Shickele: "That sound like a recap. Is it time for a recap, Bob?"

Dennis: "Well, yes, Pete, the average symphony has a recap just after the 1st quarter and this one's falling right into line."

. . .

Shickele: "The strings are cutting up that theme into little pieces. It's getting downright lethargic down there, if you want to know the truth.... [Brass entrance] The brasses have tried to wake them up, a welcome relief, but to no avail."

. . .

Shickele: "Nobody but nobody knows where the theme is down there. Why, the players are as lost as we are. Wait a minute! Wait a minute!!! The brasses have got a hold of that theme! The brasses have got a hold of that theme and THEY ARE NOT GOING TO LET GO!!!"

. . .

Shickele: "... and it's tutti all way and it looks like they have a great symphony on their hands. But wait, I can't believe my ears, it sounds like another recap! If that happens that will be the first time in 15 years of concert casting.

Dennis: "Well, I think that's something the Composer's Commission will have to look into.

Shickele: "Right you are, Bob. Wait a minute, those are final chords, though. Is it? Wait! The referee is lowering his hands. YES!!! That is the end of the piece! The players are now taking off their helmets and acknowledging the cheers of the crowd!"


Gottagopractice said...

That observation is spot on. In my opinion, it's the pleasure evoked by hearing the ensemble coalesce around you that is the addictive feature of music-making. It's why over time you meet lots of musicians who play with others, and few who play "only for myself". The latter is just not sustainable.

Tom Heck said...

I've been playing clawhammer (old time) banjo since 1983. I was initially attracted to the music through dance (clogging). The dance was all about having fun as a community. When I started playing I came to see the music in a new way. The old time string band music jam session was all about creating one unified sound - - it was about teamwork. I've played in jam sessions that have lasted through the night and have experienced time standing still while playing. Playing in a jam session has been a great way for me to experience teamwork.

robjeny said...

So, chid, what do you call this "thing" you quoted - I want to order it. Does Amazon have it?

My community orchestra director did lines from it during rehearsals. It's great fun. I miss going to the orchestra practices. But, he's in Afganistan right now with the Illinois National Guard. I have to wait a year or so to go back.


Terry said...

I see "New Horizons in Music Appreciation" is on the Wurst of P.D.Q. Bach available from Amazon. I've listened to the 30 second sample and yep, that's it, even though that 1st 30 seconds is pretty lame. That's the thing about comedy, almost anyboby's comedy. There's a fine, movable line between brilliant and dopey and, yes, I think even Schikele would admit sometimes he falls short on that line.

Inspired by recent events, I have his recent video, "Houston, We Have A Problem" coming from Netflix. In it, he reprises the Beethoven's 5th skit. According to the reviews I've read, the video tends to fall short of the brilliant side of that line. I'll report more after I see it.