Thursday, February 17, 2011

Note Grouping - James Morgan Thurmond

Note Grouping - A Method for Achieving Expression and Style in Musical Performance.

The title itself isn't particularly artful, and I must say neither is the writing style. Despite being written in a very formal, academic tone, the subject of the music is musical interpretation, and as the author says himself in the preface, takes a well known concept and idea, and attempts to present it in a methodical and novel way that might shed new light onto an age old problem: how to play music musically.

To that extent, I think the author did an excellent job. The primary contention by the author is that, whenever we hear performances that are technically flawless, but mechanical, and altogether uninspiring (as I'm sure we all have), it ultimately boils down to putting proper stress or intensity in the proper places in music. Those places are almost always the 'weak beats', or arses as he terms them. Yet, often times, we as human beings have a tendency to stress the strong beats, very often the first beat of every measure, which is typically a tonic chord or note, and therefore a place of rest. Places of rest, however, are not interesting without places of dissonance and contention, meaning that what is truly important are the complex chords and tonalities that fall within the arses. When we fail to realize this, we thump thump thump along on the down beats, producing the mechanical and altogether unmusical performances that are slaves to the bar line. 

Its analyses are often exhaustive, covering all imagined permutations of interpretation within its covers. It is, however, altogether interesting and enlightening. I often found myself making connections, and finding elaboration on ideas I have been nebulously taught over the years. Yet here, they were confined in a very tight, concise manner, making them inescapable, and anything but nebulous. The ideas were fascinating, and something I will be looking into implementing into my own practicing, playing, and teaching, hopefully to good effect. 

The only real drawback to the text was its extreme academic writing style. Unless you just love reading academic theses, you might have some difficulty getting through it. It also makes liberal use of repetition, which at times is necessary to convey new concepts. However, at other times, it leaves you feeling that you've read that page before, even though you know you haven't. Despite this, however, I would consider it a valuable text. It's something I'm very glad I've read, and I look forward to exploring it on a daily basis in the future.

note grouping

1 comment:

  1. You might also look into Ed Lisk's books. He references this book when talking about teaching students how to play musically. It's a similar outcome, though. He offers the three natural laws of music, with examples, and explains a few examples of how you can present them to students. He has a couple of other tricks that are neat as well.

    Think about what you just explained, though, and apply that to "Air for Band" by Erickson, and I think you'll see why Doherty picked it to teach musicality. It has complex harmonies, and yet it's simple, with numerous passing tones off the beat. The only draw back, as I'm sure you'll vouch for, is that the percussion is left out until the end.


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