TOWARD A PERSONAL MUSIC



  • IMPROVISATION We have had since the early Renaissance a five hundred year history in the art of musical Improvisation, but in this last century the Art of Improvisation has almost disappeared from the scene of musical activity. Even the name "Improv" has been virtually subsumed by a dozen varieties of Jazz, and strains of Classical harmonic or a modern pan-tonal Improvisation are only now beginning to be heard anew. But change is in the air as people reach for a personal Music which comes from the hidden recesses of the Soul. l988.


  • MUSIC IN THE AGE OF IMPROVISATION The time is long past when we had to explain the role of Improvisation in the Arts. Since 1988, when the previous essay was published, everything has gone through dynamic change and we now find Improvisation developing equally fast in Theater, in Dance, and in Music. This paper surveys the arts scene with special interest in the development of Classical Improvisation with special attention on the piano as the master solo instrument.


  • Classical Improvisation! How can it ben activated to start up again, and what is the avenue leading from a few initial experiments to a continuing pleasure in making one's own music? The range is wide, the steps are natural and at the end there is something important to become involved with in this new age of often impersonal experiences.


  • Orchestral Instrument Improvisation The Piano with is wide range of tones and soft-loud capabilities, is a standard instrument for solo improvisation. But there is a great variety of orchestral instruments which we never hear except for their parts in an orchestral score. These too can be used by skilled performers for their own personal solo-improvisation, a subject which is here described and explored.


  • Personal Music: Composing from the Soul When the first personal computers announced the new "PC Age", we understood that we would have at our fingertips a remarkable access to a new multi-dimensional world. The new technology brought us ubiquitous music with the CD and then with streamed digital music, and we easily became listeners and a passive spectator audience, forgetting how to play instruments for our own pleasure. In fact the music training of our youth was often counter-intuitive and not at all pleasurable with its drill techniques. Only with jazz improv. did some people begin to enjoy "playing" rather than practicing. But beside Jazz, there is a rich tradition of a tradition of Classical Improvisation, often thought of as 'lost', but one which we can reach into directly from our previous classical music lessons. This can be for many of us the route into a world of a true Personal Music


  • Score or no Score, that is the question! How can we cut our way through centuries of the accumulated undergrowth of musical Notation, to find space for new kinds of musical thinking? Un-scored music still seems after fifty years, something new outside our music lessons. Whether working with diagrammatic indications, pregnantly suggestive artwork, aleatory possibilities or electronics via EAM., we see that although there is obviously much to retain in standard Notation, there is also a great deal to clear away...!


  • Baroque Improvisation Here is an "Introduction to Baroque Improvisation" for people who have studied piano formerly, but lost the musical thread to the instrument over the years. This covers the basics which a person will want to review in setting out on a personal Baroque Improv project. Baroque Improvisation,from a period which historically dates from around 1550 to 1750, is an ideal vehicle for developing flexible hand playing with a musically intuitive sense of polyphony.


  • Schoenberg's Long Shadow ....twelve-tone rows and atonality, reviewed in a personal retrospective. Western music is to the ear over 90 percent harmonically tonal, so it is not surprising to find, here as elsewhere, that one's man's passion is another man's poison.


  • Music as background Ambiance ...or ... Music as Mind? We have become so accustomed to a musical background in cinema, in our TV storytelling, in restaurants and in the doctor's offices, that we get used to not hearing it at all. But this daily dulling of our auditory senses undercuts our musical capabilities and when we hear a symphony we tend to hear the melody as dominant and ignore the rest of the orchestra as a kind of ambient background. It takes a real effort of the Mind to hear serious music. Hearing Bach's 48 cannot be done absentmindedly, while you are having dinner.


  • Rhythmics and Metrics As as we regularize our musical or poetic rhythms they can easily become stock metrics, creating a dangerous limitation to imagination and art. Western music with all its harmonic complexities and orchestral capabilities, is somehow deficient in the complex poly-rhythmics which lie at the base of other cultures' systems. Counting "one - and - two - and - three ..." as kids, and reading rhymed poetry by the meter and the foot, we lose the appreciation of a line of irregular pulses on which longer lines of sound are based. But when we improvise our own spontaneous music, we can often reach back and make a conscious effort to recover and repair some of the losses.


  • Schenker Analysis This is usually seen as a formal and somewhat formidable way of tracing out the invisible threads of compositions for purposes of clarifying and improving Performance. But this work can be seen the other way around, as an organizing force connecting the start of growing phrases toward far and unseen ends, in short connecting each micro-structural part of a musical sentence with the final vocalism of the completed cadence. This is not easy to see in written scores, probably it is best understood as the way we intuitively plan a sentence's loci. I believe we can profitably use Schenker's ideas for the art of musical composition, planned or intuitively improvised, aklthouygh ti was originally devised for analysis and performance.


  • Electro-Acoustic Music The avenue into a world of unheard sounds has been extensively developed in the last half of the 20th century, bringing together our expanding electronic engineering with musical art to produce a new discipline cryptically called EAM. It offers grand freedom, but at the cost of much complicated knowledge and technique as a passport for entry. Pre=set automatic control of multiple machines and parameters can be offset by generating loops activated randomly or modified by hand motion sensors --- a new world for the music maker with new kind of sounds indeed.


  • Ode to the Piano It may seem unusual to find a rhapsodic "Ode" about the piano, but is it less suitable to write about a poem about music, than music to go along with sung lyrical words? Music and words and part of the same art after all.


  • The Piano Shop on the Left Side of Route Seven South.... After reading Thad Carhart's fascinating book on a piano shop in Paris, it occurred to me that there must be interesting piano shops everywhere, so I sketched out a description of one I know well, which is Hansen and Son near Burlington VT.


  • The Well Tempered Piano We usually play on our piano until with seasonal changes, it becomes absolutely intolerable to enkoy. After closing the lid and putting a blanket over it to damp the out-of-tune sounds, until we finally phone frantically for the tuner. Practicing on an untuned instrument is bad for the ears, ruinous for the mind. Here is a guide to maintaining and keeping your piano in proper tuning as a necessity for sensitive performance.


  • The Grand Piano: Action and Regulation This is a complicated musical machine with many hundreds of parts, initially invented around 1700 by Cristafori, its action coming virtually complete from Erard around 1830, with the cast iron frame designed by Chickering around 1820 --- all together giving us the instrument we call the Grand Piano. Here is a compact treatise on the action of the grand piano, explaining how it works along with detailed information for checking and making necessary adjustments if you have a curiosity, courage and a technical bent.


  • The FALCONE Piano Site From l982-8 Santi Falcone produced a remarkable series of handmade pianos in Haverhill MA, designed to cross the bridge between the stolid Steinway sound and the more European lyrical pianos. This site collects information from owners of these remarkable instruments, along with material from Mr Falcone about the history of his work. 2007+


  • A Piano Check-list This is a printable list of the 88 piano keys in 7 octaves, for your use in noting problems of tuning, action and harmonics. With 88 keys and their complex actions and over 300 strings, it is worthwhile to keep accurate notes on anything wrong so when the technician comes s/he knows what to look for. Common Sense!


  • Psychotrope Description of a mind-altering tape formerly used in a class situation for improving acoustic awareness; the tape was lost but here is an outline for re-creating the original for your own use.




. . . go to Classical Improv. Several recorded piano pieces ,

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