Feb 20 2012

The Beauty of Greatness

Category: Beauty,God,musicamuzikman @ 2:11 am

I am inclined to think of greatness (or excellence if you will)  and beauty as sometimes synonymous.  There is a particular kind of beauty displayed and sensed when something is done with unparalleled excellence, something performed, created, written or otherwise constructed with an instantly recognizable quality that surpasses the very best that most of us could ever hope to accomplish.

We are all guilty of using descriptive adjectives in our everyday language that casually exaggerate the quality of what we are describing.  Words like awesome, great, amazing, spectacular, and glorious seem to roll off our tongues with daily frequency to the point of meaninglessness.  We say, “I just met a great guy”, but how many truly great people do we ever meet in our lifetime?  Pity the word, “awesome”, it never had a chance.  Once the word became idiomatic for virtually anything someone liked or thought of as “cool” it became a word without meaning beyond a general statement of approval.  How many times in our lives have we ever come in contact with something or someone that really deserves the descriptive, “awesome”?

The word “glory” has met a similar fate within the church, I fear.  We ascribe glory to God in word and in song with seldom a thought about what we are saying.  I dare say that the briefest encounter with God’s glory would leave us face down trembling on the floor for quite some time.

But sometimes we are blessed by a rare encounter with true greatness.  Sometimes we get a glimpse of pure excellence. When we are confronted with awesome we start to realize how silly we are when we trivialize the word. And when these moments come, we discover a particular kind of beauty whose expression lies somewhere beyond words.  And especially if what we see or hear is within the sum of our own personal striving for excellence, then I think there is another level of beauty to be experienced.  It goes deeper than mere appreciation or understanding.  It goes much farther than relating to or identifying with.  It is, in fact, much like climbing a very steep and very tall mountain.  Only someone who has experienced the rocky incline for several miles and several thousand feet can really understand something about what it must take to stand on the peak.

I think herein lies a very good reason to earnestly seek excellence.  For it is in the striving, the sweat, the persistence, the sometimes triumphs and too often failures that we develop both an understanding of, and deep sense of oneness with that which is truly great.

I have come to grips with the fact, that, in spite of many years of trying, I will never be a great musician. Good will have to do.  But I thank God my journey has brought me to a place where I can weep with joy at the beauty of hearing truly great musicians perform. Still, I don’t think I would know great without having sought it.  I believe few now know what it means to be great or excellent.  It has lost its meaning, a victim of trivialization, and it is a journey few are willing to take because it is a prize seldom gained.  Let’s face it, greatness and excellence don’t go hand in hand with instant gratification.  Many simply wait to be told something is great, then nod their assent. Sadly, whether or not it is doesn’t seem to matter.  I’m glad it still matters to me.

Apr 07 2011

God and the bass players

Category: musicharmonicminer @ 11:18 am

From talkbass, we have this:



In the beginning there was a bass.

It was a Fender, probably a Precision, but it could have been a Jazz –
nobody knows. Anyway, it was very old …definitely pre- C.B.S.

And God looked down upon it and saw that it was good. He saw that it was
very good in fact, and couldn’t be improved on at all (though men
would later try.)

And so He let it be and He created a man to play the bass. and lo
the man looked upon the bass, which was a beautiful ‘sunburst’ red,
and he loved it. He played upon the open E string and the note
rang through the earth and reverberated throughout the firmaments
(thus reverb came to be.)

And it was good. And God heard that it was good and He smiled at his

Then in the course of time, the man came to slap upon the bass. And lo
it was funky. And God heard this funkiness and He said, “Go man, go.”
And it was good. And more time passed, and, having little else to
do, the man came to practice upon the bass.

And lo, the man came to have upon him a great set of chops. And he
did play faster and faster until the notes rippled like a breeze
through the heavens.

And God heard this sound which sounded something like the wind, which
had created earlier. It also sounded something like the movement
of furniture, which He hadn’t even created yet, and He was not so

And He spoke to the man, saying “Don’t do that!” Now the man heard the
voice of God, but he was so excited about his new ability that he
slapped upon the bass a blizzard of funky notes. And the heavens
shook with the sound, and the Angels ran about in confusion. (Some of
the Angels started to dance, but that’s another story.)

And God heard this – how could He miss it – and lo He became
Bugged. And He spoke to the man, and He said, “Listen man, if I
wanted Jimi Hendrix I would have created the guitar. Stick to the
bass parts.”

And the man heard the voice of God, and he knew not to mess with it.
But now he had upon him a passion for playing fast and high.
The man took the frets off of the bass which God had created.
And the man did slide his fingers upon the fretless fingerboard and play
melodies high upon’ the neck.

And, in his excitement, the man did forget the commandment of the
Lord, and he played a frenzy of high melodies and blindingly fast licks.
And the heavens rocked with the assault and the earth shook, rattled
and rolled.

Now God’s wrath was great. And His voice was thunder as He spoke to the
man. And He said, “O.K. for you, pal. You have not heeded My word. Lo, I
shall create a soprano saxophone and it shall play higher than you
can even think of.” “And from out of the chaos I shall bring forth
the drums. And they shall play so many notes thine head shall ache,
and I shall make you to always stand next to the drummer.”

“You think you’re loud? I shall create a stack of Marshall guitar amps
to make thine ears bleed. And I shall send down upon the earth other
instruments, and lo, they shall all be able to play higher and faster
than the bass.” “And for all the days of man, your curse shall be
this: that all the other musicians shall look to you, the bass player,
for the low notes.

And if you play too high or fast all the other musicians shall say “Wow”
but really they shall hate it. And they shall tell you you’re
ready for your solo career, and find other bass players for their

And for all your days if you want to play your fancy licks you
shall have to sneak them in like a thief in the night.” “And if you
finally do get to play a solo, everyone shall leave the bandstand and go
to the bar for a drink.”

And it was so.


Jul 31 2010

Lower brain functions and music: connected?

Category: musicharmonicminer @ 12:33 pm

Does Classical music move the heart in vegetative patients?

Classical music pulls at the heartstrings of people in a vegetative state as well as those of healthy listeners. If you play music to vegetative patients, their heart rate changes in the same way as that of healthy controls, suggesting that music can affect the neural systems of emotion even when conscious thought is impossible.

Francesco Riganello at the Santa Anna Institute in Crotone, Italy, and colleagues played four pieces of classical music to 16 healthy volunteers while measuring their heartbeats. The team then repeated the experiment with nine people who were in a vegetative state. In addition, they asked the healthy volunteers to describe the emotions they had felt while listening.

The pieces, each 3 minutes long and by different composers, were chosen because they have different tempos and rhythms, factors previously shown to elicit positive and negative emotions.

Riganello found that the music affected the heart rates of both groups in the same way. Pieces rated as “positive” by healthy volunteers, such as the minuet from Boccherini’s string quintet in E, slowed heart rate, while “negative” pieces like Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony increased heart rate.

People are medically defined as vegetative when they have no recognisable behavioural responses to external stimuli, says Riganello. “Generally it is thought that vegetative patients are isolated from the external world, but maybe this is incorrect.”

Interestingly, heartbeat patterns detected in people listening to Boccherini’s music in previous studies indicated that the listeners were becoming relaxed. Riganello suggests that listening to music may have caused “some relaxation” in the vegetative patients.

He believes this reaction originates from the lower regions of the brain, such as the limbic and paralimbic system. These are known to control emotion and autonomic responses and “may remain active after extensive brain damage”.

“It’s a nice paper,” says Ashley Craig, a rehabilitation neuroscientist at the University of Sydney, Australia, who was not involved in the study. He points out, however, that it doesn’t show the vegetative people feel emotions as healthy people do. Although their basic, automatic brain functions are working, “that’s very different” from the higher cognitive processes required to be conscious and feel emotions, he says.

Alan Harvey at the University of Western Australia in Crawley agrees, but finds it very interesting that “music has this way of affecting neural systems that process emotion even in the absence of conscious thought”.

Hmmm…. I’ve written elsewhere about my opinion re: the connection between emotion, communication and music, to the extent that there is one.  The research reported here seems to relate the very lowest level of autonomic nervous system functioning to music. 

I’m afraid I have to agree with Ashley Craig.  This doesn’t prove much of anything about the way people with normal, undamaged brains actually process music, or about the way that music affects them.

It is interesting, though…  and makes me wonder if music affects animals (who share these lower brain function with humans) the same way, so that they might respond the same way as the brain damaged human research subjects did in this study.

If so, I know a particularly hyper dog I might try it on.

May 14 2010


Category: education,higher education,humor,musicharmonicminer @ 8:20 am

This is a crosspost with MusicalGod.

Apr 13 2010

New life

Category: church,music,religion,societyharmonicminer @ 8:01 am

And despite the comment of the talking head at the end, this reborn musician did not “save himself.”

Mar 07 2010

A definition of music (with due regard for where angels fear to tread)

Category: musicharmonicminer @ 9:47 am

So, I was plowing through some old disks, trying to locate a musical project that a client from years ago seems to want to remix.

While I was at it, I ran across a definition of music that I’d written many years ago, when a professor essentially forced me to do it, even though I thought it was an impossible task.  For the record, I still think it’s an impossible task.  But, for your entertainment and derision, and because I can’t think of anything better to post today, here it is:

Music is sound, created by a human being or surrogate (such as a computer programmed by a human), designed to be heard and understood at some level other than language. It isn’t just explicitly referential sound effects (as in the work of a foley artist for film). It isn’t a more or less accidental result of some other process, whose main purpose isn’t the creation of sound (as in the sweetly purring motor that is “music” to the mechanic’s ears). It is sound created primarily to be experienced as sound, designed to he heard without a specific extra-musical meaning attached to its elements. (This doesn’t mean that a given composition can’t have a program assigned by the composer to some element or other. It does mean that there is no automatic understanding of extra-musical meaning built into the “musical language” itself.) Its closest linguistic analog is poetry, as opposed to prose. Its closest physical motion analog is dance, as opposed to athletics of a team or solo nature. Music itself is neither language nor dance, though it partakes of certain similarities, having to do with the ways that events are organized temporally.

If communication requires a shared language with clear definitions for terms, music is NOT communication. It is possible to listen to a language that one does not know, recognize that it is a language, and yet understand nothing that was said, not even emotional overtones or context. In such cases, the only thing that is communicated is that no communication is taking place, beyond the fact that someone is trying unsuccessfully to communicate! When we listen to a musical style whose basic precepts escape us, we usually still know it’s music, or at least that it was intended to be.

Different kinds of music depend on different kinds of listening on the part of a presumed audience. Therefore, except in the most general of terms, no single kind of listening can be termed “musical listening”, without reference to the particular type of music being heard.

If you enjoy this sort of philosophical wool-gathering, you can find more of it here, on another site that I haven’t been maintaining much lately…  probably because I have little that’s new to add to the topic, that I haven’t already written and posted there.

Nov 15 2009

Introducing the Shacklephone

Category: humor,Intelligent Design,musicsardonicwhiner @ 9:10 am

No, it’s not a new competitor for the iPhone.

A few of my musician friends are attempting to invent a conceptually new musical instrument we will call the Shacklephone.  It will have keys, strings, a brass mouth-piece, frets, a slide, a bassoon mouthpiece, valves, a bell, a resonating body, and a sustain pedal, not to mention a MIDI interface, balanced audio input/output, AES/EBU digital audio interface, wordclock i/o, SMPTE timecode i/o, 64GB of RAM and a satellite transmission capability.  There will be Bb Tenor Shacklephones, Eb Alto and Eb Contrabass Shacklephones, and, of course, C Melody Shacklephones.  It will be the only musical instrument that is all things to all musicians.  There will even be drum and Shacklephone corps, using anti-gravity-equipped marching Shacklephones.  The special F Gospel Shacklephone will automatically scoop all notes.

Who needs physical modeling synthesis when you’ve simply included something of all the instruments?  Much like the music of Scriabin was supposed to have done, but didn’t, the Shacklephone will usher in the new age of enlightenment and agape love among all humanity.  The very age of Aquarius, with a dose of galactic alignment thrown in for good measure.

Professional design assistance is needed.  Anyone who would like to submit artist renderings of the proposed instrument could share in the royalties from the (doubtless) extensive sales anticipated for it.

The first prototype is scheduled to be rolling out of the Shacklephone factory sometime in the year 2012, and will be delivered to Yo-Yo Ma, who is developing a method book for novice Shacklephonists.  Bono has requested one so that he can Shacklephonically pursue world peace.  Persistent rumors at the Huffington Post suggest that Bill Clinton, the first black president, plans to appear on late night TV playing the Bb Marching Shacklephone (we all know of his fondness for astroturf…  shoot, didn’t he have his pickup truck bed lined with it?) as he tries to help Hillary unseat Obama in the 2012 elections.  I don’t think it will help, but it will be fun to watch.  He was always good at playing the blues.

Because of the possibility of Shacklephonio-political implications, the factory’s location will remain undisclosed until the first production run is complete and delivery has been made.  This should help avoid the appearance of former ACORN workers now employed by the Office of Universal Care Health Enforcement (OUCHE) trying to shut the place down to protect Obama’s re-election prospects…  since, of course, when the new age dawns, no one will be voting for him.

Wait:  didn’t I hear something else about the year 2012?

Must remember.

Oct 04 2009

Louder is better?!?

Category: church,music,theologyharmonicminer @ 11:26 am

The following is a prime example of taking a phrase in scripture and making too much of it… while also suggesting that God is impressed with the volume of our music

You are familiar with the exhortation that music in worship is summoned to be skilful music (Ps. 33:3). We are not permitted to just throw anything together and call it good. But skill is not the only characteristic we are told to cultivate. “Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise” (Ps. 33:3).

There is a temptation when churches pursue excellence in music, and that is the temptation of becoming music snobs. And when that happens, a party spirit sets in and we start feeling superior to those who praise God with three chords maximum. But holding on to what we know about musical excellence, what do these brothers and sisters do that is better than how we do it? Well, frequently, contemporary worship music is louder than what we do. This is a clear and identifiable superiority. The Bible says that we are to worship God with shouts, with cymbals, with percussion, with noise. This is as much a biblical standard as that of playing skillfully—all the earth is to make a loud noise and rejoice (Ps. 98: 4); the cymbals are to be loud (Ps. 150:5); those who trust in God are to shout for joy (Ps. 5: 11); God ascends with a shout (Ps. 47:5).

God does not just want quality in music; He wants quantity. And to take pride in the quality if it is mumbled is just as wrong headed as to take pride in the noise apart from excellence in execution. We don’t get to pick and choose, and lord it over those who pick and choose a different deficiency. Adulterers on Mondays and Wednesdays do not get to feel superior to adulterers who sin on Tuesdays and Fridays.

So clap your hands, all you peoples, shout unto God with a voice of triumph.

OK, gimme a break here.  Equating the importance of musical taste to the choice of day to commit adultery is so far over the top that it would be an understatement to call it hyperbole.

But louder is better? More Godly?

NIV renders Psalm 33:3 this way:

“Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy.”

A better approach to this is to acknowledge that part of playing skillfully is to play softly when required… and that, in context, “shouting for joy” in musical performance most likely means playing or singing it like you mean it, and not just going through the motions. Playing and singing like it matters. Like you’re doing something important, not merely reciting musically by rote, but being personally, completely involved in what you’re doing, namely worshipping God with music.

But simple, sheer volume? So, if one Marshall stack represents salvation, does a double stack represent sanctification?

I don’t see any amps in this picture.

Aug 15 2009

Watch this and wonder

Category: musicharmonicminer @ 10:59 pm

Aug 11 2009

Pentatonic off the stage… almost

Category: musicharmonicminer @ 8:46 pm

Welcome to Practical Musicianship I.

Next Page »