Gathering Twigs

I have filled the weeks since my last post with research. Mainly research on how to weave it together.

The traditional research I’ve been conducting included reading Ingrid Monson’s book “Saying Something” -which I think is fair to sum up as an argument for the social implications of musical practices. Monson interviewed of a handful of rhythm section players working in New York and discovered that they often used the metaphor of conversation to describe the nuances of their role on stage. They recognized their role as listening and responding. They discussed mimesis, and the way musicians practice towards individual articulation. They also site groove as an ideal aesthetic which they aim to provide.

What Monson does with this information is to recognize that if musicians are considering their work to be the production of statements, then politics come into play. She makes a strong argument for how the work of musicians is one site where society gets shaped as much as it is reflected. In practice, this feels instinctual however Monson makes the hard-hitting academic argument. Here I want to reflect on new considerations toward singing raised by reading her book.

This idea of setting up “space between” by establishing the goal posts…the “and” of the 1. Groove seems like a recurring artistic and collaborative goal. In education circles we talk about scaffolding where we support learning by providing structure. Similarly, the rhythm section provides structure for the soloist. In our circle singing group most activities work with this idea of creating a sound bed for a solo to lie on. Here we are talking about counterpoint and polyrhythm. It is interesting to note that the aesthetic goal is interaction and contrast, not repetition or mimicry. References may be made but plagiarism receives negative attention, and amendments must be made. The idea of groove supports this because it is the space in which to play, but it also hopefully provides a sense flow or pacing that both challenges and carries the soloist along. The groove should help the soloist feel the ideas coming and prevent them from thinking too long about it. Establishing groove is a primary importance in facilitating vocal improvisation, both sonically and emotionally. This metaphor also leads me to think about families as support networks that don’t necessarily provide support through harmony but also through contrast.

This idea brings me right back to the tension between cooperation and conformity -which was a constant consideration in teaching music. Similarly, in the circle singing work, I find myself fighting the urge to conform in the effort of responsive solos. And yet too much effort to be unique will lead to an over internationalization of the solo. It will muck it up. We practice circle singing so that it will be natural, to sharpen our instincts. This reveals the value that instinct is where something becomes synthesized, where it becomes incorporated into our personal culture. What improvisations demonstrate (regardless of the art form) is this agility, this synthesis of whatever the skill on display is.

Back to Monson’s conversational metaphor: A good conversation is not just about what was being said, and certainly not built out of two people in unified agreement. A good conversation nudges the participants to make realization and expand or deepen their understanding, in lyrical or poetic ways. And now we’re back to music…

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