Monday, May 14, 2012

Knowledge Is Bliss

I have mentioned that I have listened to many adults mourn their long-lost piano lessons, wishing they had stuck it out so they could read music and play into the late evening hours after their children have gone to sleep. I have never mentioned the other side before.... the ones who say they are glad to be without formal music training because they think they hear music in a more magical manner than someone with trained ears. There were moments when I would hear them and wonder if they were right. Did I ruin my ability to love music with child-like wonder by devoting so many hours to the science of it?

I got my first twice-weekly paid gig straight out of high school, and after that, it was only a matter of time before I was technically professional, which really just means I was paying all of my bills through music. Just like any job, it can get tedious. I found the other professional musicians to be just as jaded as any other professional worker. It was just a job. I was so scared I would become like them, and I have to admit, it only took about a year before I began to feel the same sense of bored obligation to my "job" as I had felt when I worked the hosiery counter at JC Penney's. I wondered if those blissfully-uneducated music fans were right.

With the swift decline of music education sweeping across the country, and entire generations now growing up without any kind of formal music training, I have to ask myself if this is a serious problem or not. And are the happily untrained music fans right? Is music more magical when covered with a veil of secrecy? I don't think so. I have been playing and studying music for most of my life, and the beautiful thing about it is there is always something new and magical to uncover. It is like Math or Science. Many of us never study past basic Biology or Algebra, so we can never even attempt to understand the mysteries of the universe, and I feel it is the same with music. When you don't study music, most of us hear it as one blob of sound... albeit a beautiful blob if we like what we hear... but nonetheless a blob. A giant mass of sound. Most of us cannot hear the bass line. Our ears can't pull out the violin part from the rest of the instruments, you hear a singer and a clump of instruments making a wall of sound.... that is... unless you had a music education.

After a long and ongoing music education, I feel like I am reaching a point where things are starting to become magical in a completely different way. The difference between pre-education and post-education is in what I hear. After years of ear training, I can hear every instrumental part in a song clearly, and I can comprehend the musical choices the composer made. When I improvise now, I am aware of just how many choices there are to make in a composition. My friends... there are so many choices! There are so many options and how one decides is so personal. When I hear a great composer, I want to know why they make the choices they make. They're choices are ultimately so different from my own. I have no idea why these individuals make their particular choices, and that is what makes it continuously magical. It is so much more than luck when a great songwriter or composer makes a beautiful piece of music. After playing "Blackbird" on the piano tonight, I am convinced that Paul McCartney is a genius and a master of music theory, despite rumors that he cannot read music. If that rumor is true, take note that it says nothing about his grasp on the theory of music. That man knows more about music theory than most of today's pop stars ever will. The way he crafts a song and his harmony choices are simply incredible and awe-inspiring.

I wish music education were not so nearly extinct. I fear this attitude of blissful ignorance will catch on and make it ok to not study music. There is so much more to musical magic than power chords, I-IV-V compositions, A-B-C song structures, and unison-only singing. If that was Greek to you, and you love music as much as I do, I encourage you to go deeper in your understanding of it. There is a whole universe out there waiting to be explored. If you don't have the time, then at least make sure your kids are in music lessons. I can't handle the thought of another generation growing up with a knowledge of music that doesn't go beyond the Billboard charts. There is so much magic out there!

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