Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Simplicity: Music Analogy

If I could shadow someone for a year, it would be Marian McPartland of NPR's Piano Jazz. Not only is she an amazing jazz pianist at age 92, but she gets to play with and interview some of the top jazz musicians in the world. Her guest on the show I heard this evening was saxophonist Phil Woods (he's 79, a young-un).

During a portion of the interview, they discussed how their perceptions of music and improvisation had changed during their long careers. Woods said (not verbatim), "When I was younger, it was all about getting in as many fast notes as possible. Hearing an early recording of myself I wondered when I had time to breathe."

But his next comment made me think a bit. "Sure the sixteenth notes can be fun to play, but it's the sustained whole note that really means something."

My first reaction: "Whoa, that's applicable to life on so many different levels."

Second reaction: "But if he hadn't experienced all those sixteenth notes, would the whole note carry the same meaning?"


  1. Actually, Marian was born in 1918 and she is 92 years young!

    I agree with your post and would also dare to suggest that this reflects the reason that many people don't find that today's contemporary Christian "worship music" actually sets their hearts to worship. The focus in many, though certainly not all, songs is faster, louder, more energy, more layers, more frantic.

    The beauty of the half or whole note, the concept of sustaining securely on a pitch, or not being afraid to keep it simple are lost arts in much of today's worship music. However, these are important concepts. Many times in Scripture we are encouraged to DWELL in the Lord, REST in Him or to BE STILL and to KNOW. More people around us need to learn to slow down than to speed up!

    Similarly, younger conductors tend to take their ensembles at faster tempi - more seasoned directors aren't afraid to slow things down and to extract the music from the notes. It isn't just that the old guys are tired geezers who can't wave a stick quite as fast, but instead, like Phil Woods, they've developed a new appreciation for the meaning of the whole note.

  2. Thanks mom! Duly noted & edited.

    This reminded me of high school whenever we would ask Mr. Cox what the marching show would be next year the answer was always, "Come To whole notes." Sounded like torture back then. :)