Saturday, April 21, 2012

When I Was Seventeen

Ann Althouse has a blog that rarely talks about music but a while back she said:
"It's the music you love when you are 17 that sticks with you all your life."
I know other people that say this too. But I wanted to leave this comment on that:
Not in my case. When I was 17 (I'm the same age as you) I loved Eric Burden and the Animals and found the Beatles confusing. I soon fell in love with Sgt Pepper's and the White Album and later on, Revolver and Rubber Soul. But I developed new loves in music every year since. When I was in my early 30s I fell in love with some stuff by David Bowie and the English Beat. Also true of classical music. First Dvorak and Debussy, then Bach and Beethoven. Lately I've been really fond of 12th century organum.
I think I know the reason why this is often true. A lot of your basic characteristics are formed when you are a teenager. Sometimes it is a case of settling into a way of seeing the world that, barring catastrophic events, will stick with you for your whole life. But sometimes you are struck by a kind of 'vision' that starts you on a journey and you don't know where it will take you. For me, I had a progressive, incremental revelation about music that has stuck with me. But this revelation is an open-ended one. The expressive power and magic of music just came home to me and I continue to explore it to this day.

I used the word 'magic' because there are things about music that have always seemed magical to me. Certain pieces or passages from pieces have a wonderful expressive effect but it seems impossible to pin down exactly why. I know musical theorists and analysts will be uncomfortable with this, but analyzing music is only useful up to a point. I remain fascinated with the magical effect a single note, played in the right way, can open the door, set the scene, whatever metaphor you like! I remember a conversation I had with a clarinetist once who had just heard a Jessye Norman recital and told me she sang one note that he would remember the rest of his life!

Some pieces start with, and keep returning to, a single, haunting note:

Some pieces have a harmonic aura that seems magical:

With a few pieces, the rhythm seems to create magical effects:

This magic is limited to no particular genre or style. There are pieces of non-classical music that have their own magic:

That's an old blues song. I always thought he was singing: "Woke up in the morning and all my hair was gone".

When I compose, I try to find a way to create just a bit of magic for the listener, an ineffable mood that is unique... To get back to the title of the post, you may indeed fixate on some specific music when you are seventeen that you will stick with, and I suppose most people do. But you might just discover music (or art, or literature or, who knows, video games) in a more general way, and be discovering and re-discovering it for the rest of your life.

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