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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000621.txt from 2001/05

From: (William Wright)
Subj: [kl] The 'cocktail party' theory of classical music
Date: Fri, 25 May 2001 12:09:59 -0400

<><> Tony Pay wrote:
Reactions to this, anyone?


in some sense, they begin [a phrase] more energetically, and lose
intensity as they progress. This particular type of modulation, a clear
beginning plus a falling away, contributes significantly to the
audibility of spoken words.

Being unschooled in music, probably I shouldn't comment on this
topic (especially since most of what you wrote makes sense to me), but
here's one point....

While it's true that students are counselled to add 'musicality' by
shaping phrases and by paying attention to the expressional
instructions, I also hear a lot of advice about: (1) steady breath;
(2) take a good breath in order that you won't fall off at the end;
(3) speech is redundant and people don't need to hear every last
syllable in order to understand, but in music, one weak note ruins an
arpeggio/chord/melody; (4) make a clean beginning that doesn't sound
like an explosion; and so forth.
Clearly there's a difference between how an individual note should
be attacked and supported vs. how an entire phrase should be attacked
and supported, but my gut reaction (for whatever little it's worth) is
that emphasis on the beginning of a phrase is a defect more often than a
virtue --- the sign of a novice --- unless the melody or the
expressional instruction specifically asks for it.

I can imagine that percussive and plucked instruments (piano, harp,
guitar, etc) could view this question differently than winds and bowed
strings do --- since every percussive or plucked note is a diminuendo by
physical necessity and this may foster a different attitude towards

Although I (still) advocate that music _is_ a type of speech, and
that the 'intellectual' aspects of music _are_ based on the neurology
and cross-talk of our senses, nevertheless musical performance minimizes
many of the tools of which speech at a cocktail party takes advantage.
I'm referring to minimal eye contact and increased physical distance
between performer and audience (compared to conversation at a cocktail
party), minimal freedom of hand gesture and body language and facial
expression, and _definitely_ less variation of sound character (tonal
color) compared to conversation --- even if the musician is a one-man
band who plays multiple instruments. I dare say that a larger
percentage of possible sound characters (tonal colors) are deemed 'bad'
in music compared to the percentage that are deemed 'bad' in speech.
Therefore patterned variations of loudness probably have different
(certainly more) relative effect in music than in speech.

All told, it makes me chuckle a bit that you and I find ourselves
switching roles here (just a little bit), and yet I'm sure that each of
us deems himself to be entirely self-consistent. This time around,
you're thinking about the similarities between spoken language and
music, and I'm headed in the opposite direction.


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