Posts Tagged 'music'

New Ears Hear

"The Return of the Prodigal Son" by Rembrandt

Music should mean something.

I have long maintained the virtue of song — or any art, really — is the ability to reveal common feelings with uncommon technique. The magic of inspiration allows one person to open their soul and, in so doing, give others the key to their own.

Sometimes we are reached in an unexpected manner, as though our eyes are opened and our ears hear for the first time all over again. Our brains are set ablaze and something of life makes sense to us, regardless of the artist’s intent.

This Fall, I became acquainted with the now-Grammy nominated Mumford and Sons.

The worship pastor at my church, a tall, blond Californian who would look just as appropriate holding a surfboard as he does playing a guitar, recommended the English folk band to me. I had approached him to express my appreciation for bluegrass-inspired renditions of our typical praise music and he encouraged me to give them a listen. He raved about the “passion” and “energy” as though the foursome had managed to corner the market in delivering emotion.

I headed to YouTube and did a search, then watched the most popular video, “Little Lion Man.” Sufficiently intrigued, I purchased Sigh No More, their big-label debut, and went about listening to it the next day during my commute.

From the very start, I felt moved.

Beyond the thumping rhythms and charged vocals, the words spoke to me — a rarity on anything short of the twelfth or fifteenth spin for a given album most of the time.

I could identify parallels between the lyrics and my blossoming life.

There are references to being made to meet your Maker and living life as it’s meant to be.

One song, though, continues to hit home more than the rest: “Roll Away Your Stone.” The title itself highlights the resurrection of Christ, yet an examination of the poetry contained within the four-plus minutes describes the soul’s rebirth. Have a look:

Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine.
Together we can see what we will find.
Don’t leave me alone at this time,
For I’m afraid of what I will discover inside.

Engaging faith is a lot like stepping into sunlight after enjoying an afternoon matinée — we stumble around confused and half-blind at first until we adjust. Encountering the past and evaluating attitudes is enlightening, to say the least. Sometimes we find a person we have trouble liking at all.

You told me that I would find a hole,
Within the fragile substance of my soul
And I have filled this void with things unreal,
And all the while my character it steals.

Coming to the end of ourselves, we find all the different means by which we attempted to cover up our ache for the Father. We realize what we’ve given up in doing so — the fools we’ve looked chasing money or the selfishness we’ve displayed towards others — and come to grips with the ramifications of that trade.

Darkness is a harsh term, don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see.

We all wish those decisions had been better (though they can and will be used for good), yet we realize how much our misguided choices led us into bad spots and possibly even self-destruction.

It seems that all my bridges have been burned,
You say that’s exactly how this grace thing works.
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive at the restart.

Having wandered as far down the path as possible, we are often left with nothing before we turn towards God. When we encounter His love, when we see Him running to greet us, it is difficult to be anything but overwhelmed by joy.

Darkness is a harsh term, don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see. (2x)

Stars hide your fires,
These here are my desires
And I will give them up to You this time around.
And so, I’ll be found with my stake stuck in this ground
Marking the territory of this newly impassioned soul (2x)

What was once important — the pursuits apart from our purpose — fade into the background as our attention shifts. We take the wishes of our heart and lift them up to the Father, doing our best to make our lives His sovereign province every day.

You, you’ve gone too far this time
You have neither reason nor rhyme
With which to take this soul that is so rightfully mine.

Then we turn back to the world, determined as ever to follow the path He carved for us — aware we’ll still falter from time to time — and claim the future He has in store.

Well, that’s what I hear.

How about you?

You Must Sing the Song in Your Heart

The man that hath no music in himself, nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils. The motions of his spirit are dull as night…Let no such man be trusted.
William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act V, Scene i

Music–like all forms of art–is a gateway into the mind.

Through it, the soul calls forth the imagery of deep truth, recognizing itself in the mirror of common experience.

Melody elicits emotions far more ably than its cousins in creativity, so governed by images or words. Lacking the rigidity of prose or two-dimensional confinement of pictures, notes are able to float through the air, free to land in the brain with the force of a feather or cannonball.

My writings are compositions, symphonies of syllables in the manner of Bach or Mozart.

As I touch my fingers to the keys, I concern myself with arrangement, tone and rhythm. I command my instruments to give strength to my highest voice, that it might serenade you and stir your spirit to raise a hymn in reply.

Without a song in your heart, you’re unable to carry a tune to the world.

Made an instrument of another’s work, you’re a part of the orchestra instead of the conductor.

By playing under the direction of someone else, you’ve given away your greatest gift–you.

And thus, you cannot be trusted.

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Miles Davis

I could listen to Miles Davis all day.

Passing my waking hours with my iPod looping the three-plus hours of his music through my ears would be a quiet pleasure.

Jazz is an art form capable of spanning the emotional spectrum quickly and the trumpeter from Illinois was adept at eliciting them all.

Davis’ popularity blossomed in 1957 after the release of critically-acclaimed Miles Ahead, the bebop-influenced Birth of the Cool (recorded in 1949-50) and his work on Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, setting the French film’s mood with sultry compositions like “Generique” .

The following year, he began experimenting with modal composition and worked it into his take on George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, as well as the studio-made Milestones.

Then, in 1959, Kind of Blue arrived.

Turning aside the complex chords of his past alongside Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker completely in favor of simpler scales, he produced a landmark in the history of recorded music. By unleashing the artist, he turned the genre on its ear.

The sextet on hand at Columbia 30th Street Studio included Davis and other luminaries of the time–Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane–roaming free across countless notes in unbridled improvisation.

With its smooth transition from indignant apathy to wistful romance, this is my favorite album of all time.

What makes it even more remarkable is the fact each of the five original tracks were produced with little in the way of direction or rehearsal. Davis was known to encourage expression and creativity by leaving his fellow musicians practically in the dark about the intended result of a session together.

The melodies are produced mostly by feel.

And that’s why I love it.

It’s all ingenuity, all the time.

Enjoy the opening song, “So What,” below.

My Running Partner

In case you’re unaware, I love music.

As I’ve written lately about the rekindling of my romance with running, I’ve decided to take a moment to discuss what I listen to while stabbing the pavement with my feet.

My tunes are my running partner.

They exhort me to keep going and, occasionally, push me too fast. In addition to the solitude of a gentle afternoon jog through the park, having time alone with my MP3 player shuffling through my selections.

I have six exercise playlists.

Four of them are based solely on genre and pictured below. The fifth is a combination of the “Classic Rock”, “Nike”, “Rap” and “Rock” groups when I’m looking to work out to the greatest variety. The sixth is a set of prepared tracks, which are specific to the task of the day.

I’ve always found it easier to get going when I’m certain the rhythm keeps me charged up.

Apart from the occasional expletive–I’m looking at you, Dr. Dre–the lists are remarkably free of objectionable material.

How are we alike? In what ways do we differ?

Classic Rock: Favorites include "When the Levee Breaks" by Led Zeppelin, "Voodoo Child" by Jimi Hendrix, "Under Pressure" by Queen (with David Bowie) and "Turn the Page" by Bob Seger

Nike Playlist: Inspired by music I've seen in ads and movies. "Extreme Ways" by Moby and "Ready, Steady, Go" by Paul Oakenfold are the heavy hitters here.

Rap Playlist: The one with the bad words, though "I Ain't No Joke" by Eric B. and Rakim, "The Projects" by Handsome Boy Modeling School and "Express Yourself" by NWA are all blameless.

Rock Playlist: Always good for a stress-burning angry run, "The Pretender" and "Come Back" by Foo Fighters, along with "Believe" by The Bravery head up this collection.

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Duke Ellington and Paul Gonsalves

“Diminuendo and Crescendo In Blue”

This is one of the most brilliant pieces of improvisation in the history of jazz, particularly the Big Band variety. Originally composed by Ellington as two separate pieces, “Diminuendo in Blue” and “Crescendo in Blue,” with a piano interval to link them, legend has it that Gonsalves managed to successfully negotiate switching the preferred instrument to saxophone at the jazz monument Birdland on June 30, 1951.

On this particular day five years later, the song began simply enough, with the piano and  percussion section rhythmically setting the stage. The crowd is being told musically to take their seats. Then the horns sweep in to let you know the show is on. The winds call out their part, telling a comparatively subdued story as the trumpets, saxophones and trombones reply with tinny sarcasm. Up to this point, the tune has the trademark eloquence and technical quality of any Ellington work.

Then, Gonsalves’ saxophone saunters in unassumingly (possibly because it was being played into the wrong microphone). Over the course of 27 choruses–nearly 6.5 minutes–he rips off one of the most memorable solos in the history of music, gaining strength and altitude and sheer audacity with each passing bar. Band members begin to shout encouragement. They know what’s happening.

The sound resonates through the event, the crowd is lifted off their butts. A “striking platinum blonde woman in a black evening dress, named Elaine Anderson, jumped from her box seat and started dancing,” confirming the energy level had skyrocketed and giving it a further boost. Fellow attendants begin standing on chairs and whistling loudly as the bridge nears its midpoint, then applaud generously as the “wailing interval” gives way to the remainder of the song.

The horns let everyone know it’s time to get back to the sheet music. The winds announce themselves in the distance, gathering steam as they march forward, belting their airy tone in epic unison. The horns answer with force of their own. Like rival cheering sections, each throws their best at the other.

They’ve changed the environment. The air is on fire. If there had been a roof, it would have blown off and landed miles away. The song is nearing its close. Lungs are burning. Fingers ache from the furious activity. Nonetheless, the finish is a flourish and the crowd erupts in joyful gratitude for the honor of being witness to this ingenuity, this virtuosity, this majesty of moment-to-moment inspiration.

This is a description of the first known recording, performed live at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, which can be purchased here. (The episode embedded from YouTube above came later.)

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