Rationality, Music and the Teenager
  • Kathy
    Posts: 4,995
    Yesterday I introduced another young teenager to the circle of fifths. It's amazing to see the lights go on as this is discussed. It's one of those marvellous, sublimely rational simple truths about music, like the whole-number proportions.

    It strikes me that young teenagers must feel worried about the coherence of life, as the capabilities of their minds expand, and that part of an educator's job is to provide examples of the rationality of the world.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    Hopefully if won't come crashing down when you explain enharmonic equivalence!

    Very nice story, Kathy. :-)
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,003
    Great. The next step might be the tetra-chord steps from one note to the next in the cycle. Then it becomes downhill for learning chant scales (modes). I think music is the universal language because it engages both the emotional and the rational simultaneously.
  • Steve, I understand what you want to say here, but one thing ethnomusicology has taught us is that music is not "the" universal language but rather a form of communication, "like" language. It has subgroups and dialects, just like language, but it isn't universal in the sense that one can communicate something across ethnic boundaries. As in language, one must understand a particular musical language to receive or send communications. I think this is no more evident than when parishioners reject chant because they think its gloomy and incapable of expressing joy. They do not understand the musical language of chant and make their assessment purely on what they do know (i.e., the tonal system in its simple applications in pop music). Also, it might be unfair to say that spoken words are not also rational and emotional at the same time. An excellent article can be written with superb attention to syntax and literary architecture, but also be very moving in its rhetoric.

    BTW I notice in my classes, that certain students become really interested when we discuss tuning systems before Bach. I've always thought that keyboard instruments were a metaphor for man's fallen state. So much beauty is tarnished by having to be out of tune.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    Michael, well said. At first I read it as "but THE one thing ethnomusicology has taught us..."! Wasn't going to let you live that down.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,828
    I did notice that you used "rationality" and "teenager" in the same phrase. As a middle-school teacher, I am convinced the two don't go together. Their little minds are not yet together enough to be rational. ;-)
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,003
    "parishioners reject chant because they think its gloomy and incapable of expressing joy"

    If so, then the "performers" are part of the problem. While chant shouldn't emulate "happy-clappy", it should at the very least flow. People can have the same reaction to organ music. Again, many organists are so wrapped up in themselves that they don't hear their performances with a congregational ear.

    I do hear what you're saying about universal language. Maybe I should have used quotes, or qualified the term as "proverbial".

    As to the organ tunings - I've built and serviced (tuned) pipe organs for over 30 years. I have not the slightest problem with equal temperament, not do have any particular enjoyment in any/all of those historical relics of tunings. Part of the perception problem in the USA is our total lack of good acoustics in church buildings. The sounds of the organ do not get a chance to "mix" properly in either the organ case/chamber or in the room. The tuning of intervals becomes quite naked in a dry, dead room. But that's the way the priest/preacher and the architects prefer it.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,828
    I would have to agree on the acoustics of many modern churches. I am fortunate to work in a Gothic structure with all hard surfaces. Any instrument, and most singers would sound good there. Everything goes out from the loft and mixes somewhere in the middle of the room, creating a wonderful sound. I have no problems with equal temperament. Unfortunately, the search for novelty never ends, whether it is the search for something modern, or for something supposed from ancient times. Someday, the purists will all go naked and live in caves because it's authentic - or at least was authentic in some time and place. But would you really want to live then and there? I wouldn't. I wonder how they will tune their rocks? ;-) Who knows? But there will surely be arguments about the tuning system.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,282
    BTW I notice in my classes, that certain students become really interested when we discuss tuning systems before Bach. I've always thought that keyboard instruments were a metaphor for man's fallen state. So much beauty is tarnished by having to be out of tune.


    OMG! Where were you when I was discussing this over on the "August Rush" thread?
  • G
    Posts: 1,386
    tuning systems before Bach. I've always thought that keyboard instruments were a metaphor for man's fallen state. So much beauty is tarnished by having to be out of tune.
    The accordion is the source of all evil - at least I think that's what Howard Goodall said...
    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • G, first of all, what the h are you doing up this late in PST?
    Secondly, I entreaty thou to consider the accordian as a source of purgation, the cleansing reeds that refine our souls to the strains of Kanon in D, as interpreted by one or more generations of Yankovic's.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,828
    I have always heard that the souls arriving in Heaven are given a harp, while the souls arriving in Hell are given an accordion.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 4,995
    I'm going to rein this back in a bit, no offense to the organ-grinder's monkey.

    At the ecclesial moment, the default music ministry regarding teens is "give in." They want a beat, they NEED a chord progression, ok, let's do that. Frankly, that's part of my default position regarding those teens whose tastes in church music have already been formed this way. I tend to do whatever is necessary regarding kids, and whadayagonnado?

    But, what if it's possible to elevate the kids' perceptions regarding rationality? A beat and a chord progression "make sense" to people with Ipods. A chord progression = rationality. But what if we brought the math back in?
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,282
    Not math.

    Give them beauty. Explain it later.
  • G
    Posts: 1,386
    "Give them beauty. Explain it later."

    Seconded.

    "what the h are you doing up this late in PST?"

    The result of an unholy experiment to provide Himself with a blend of coffee that will do violence to neither his ticker nor his tastebuds.
    Achieved this, but oh, at what cost?

    Kathy, exactly what do you mean by a "young teenager"?

    I did not have enough time to see if I achieved any real success with, say, 14 and up, but it didn't look as if I was getting anywhere.
    However so-called "tweens" were very receptive, both to the aural beauty, and the coolness of how things "fit together."
    (And everyone not-yet-an-adult seemed as thrilled with the idea of possessing arcane knowledge that very few of their elders shared as with having ring-tones adults cannot hear)

    Save the Liturgy, Save the World!
  • Kathy
    Posts: 4,995
    10-13. They are really receptive, and I agree that they love esoterica. The secret to the World of Harry Potter.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,282
    On a related note- my brother said that his children's choir loves to sing in Latin.... because that's what they speak on Harry Potter.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    Introduce the concept of hypermeter--it sounds wicked cool.
  • Steve, do you really like hearing polyphony in equal temperament? To each his own, I guess, but these days there are so many good groups who work diligently to sing or play instruments in meantone (when accompanied by organ). The effect is marvelous. The pure major thirds are the ESSENCE of the Renaissance style. One doesn't even notice the slightly narrow fifths, really. In practice, to my ear, most groups employ a type of just intonation when singing a capella that allows for pure M3s and P5s, tuned on the fly. Equal temp is OK for Chopin, but bothers me in older music.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    "parishioners reject chant because they think its gloomy and incapable of expressing joy"

    Alas, I can't blame them. Most of the chant US congregations hear is plodding old Sanctus 18 and a few somber miniatures from Lent. Gloria 8 would be welcome "if it weren't so long, and in Latin."

    And yet, young people I know are learning wonderful things like the "Puer natus." They have no grey associations, just a sense of beautiful melody, darting here and there, in perfect serenity.

    It's both virtuosic (passionate) and disciplined (organized). For a teenager, that can be a heady combination.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,828
    I suspect most in the congregation can't tell the difference between equal temperament and banging pot lids. We hear things they don't hear, or even care about.
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,003
    Michael & Charles. While good professional groups can achieve purer part tuning, I just don't find it to be a critical matter. I find that, if the musical performance is simply stunning, I'm distracted by it - it becomes sensory overload for enhancing the Liturgy, and my musical mind is drawn to the performance in and of itself. I find that neither my intellect nor my spirituality need that. I think it is more important that this good music be utilized in the Liturgy (to whatever extent it is desirable or appropriate) so that congregations everywhere may be edified. And that includes accompaniment of what many of us trained musicians would prefer to hear unaccompanied.