Monday, December 31, 2018

4.25- Tuning Slide: The Old and the New

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.
— Confucius (500 BCE!)

Music has been around a very long time. (How’s that for an understatement?)
This appears to be borne out by the archaeological evidence. While the first hand axes and spears date back about 1.7 million years and 500,000 years respectively, the earliest known musical instruments are just 40,000 years old. (Link)
I love that phrase that the earliest known musical instruments are JUST 40,000 years old. Wikipedia tells me that this is in the Upper Paleolithic Era which is the third and last subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age. The OLD stone age- as if the stone age wasn’t saying enough about how old it was! What were some of these old instruments? Flutes, of course. An easy instrument to make.
Music is found in every known culture, past and present, varying widely between times and ... It is probable that the first musical instrument was the human voice itself… A wood-lined pit contained a group of six flutes made from yew wood, between 30 and 50 cm long, tapered at one end, but without any finger holes. (Link)
Of course no one was writing any of this down for many, many millennia. But cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia have been found which contain the Hurrian hymns, a series of hymns to the goddess Nikkal that date back 3,400 years.
“Hurrian Hymn No. 6” is considered the world's earliest melody, but the oldest musical composition to have survived in its entirety is a first century A.D. Greek tune known as the “Seikilos Epitaph.” The song was found engraved on an ancient marble column used to mark a woman's gravesite in Turkey. (Link)
We do know that there were musical instruments in Biblical times, but in these histories that is kind of late. The Psalms were hymns that were probably chanted and/or sung. Our favorite instrument is far older than the Biblical times.
In Denmark, by 2500 BCE an early form of the trumpet had been developed. This trumpet is what is now known as a "natural trumpet." It is valveless, and depends completely on manipulation of the lips to change pitch.

One of the most popular instruments today was created in 1500 BCE by the Hittites. …the guitar. This was a great step; the use of frets to change the pitch of a vibrating string would lead to later instruments such as the violin and harpsichord.

In 1000 CE Guido D'Arezzo made many improvements in music theory. He first improved and reworked standard notation to be more user-friendly by adding time signatures. Then he invented solfege. This is the vocal note scale: do, re, mi, fa, so, la ,ti, do. (Link)
So why all this?
First, some humility. Here we are about to start the 3rd decade of the 21st Century. It humbles me to think that what I and many of us are doing with music is part of a very long history. It is almost something that seems to come naturally, inbred, into the human race. If those ancients could make music that was, to them, inspiring and even “great”, who am I to think that I am something special?

Second, some continuity. Music is a long tradition. As a musician I am in that tradition, as small a part as I may play in it. So what? I am still part of it. So are you. Last week one of our local musicians/writers/journalists called for all the musicians of the Rochester, MN, area to gather for the third annual picture. There were about 75 or so of us. I could probably name another 45 or 50 who I know weren’t there. We were singers and instrumentalists, classical and pop, jazz and rock and country. As we were standing there getting the picture set up the Christmas song, The Little Drummer Boy, came over the sound system. Appropriate, of course, but we all started singing along. In harmony!

Third, the possibilities! Music is a varied tradition that can speak to any moment and any time. It moved the ancient Hittites as it moves us.

It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.
— Confucius

What’s old can be new again? Perhaps it is better to say that in many ways the new is always built on the old. It can be the continuation, the growth, the evolution of the old.
At the end of a year there are many things that we look back on. We are grateful for some, with some never happened, and will forget 99% of the events. But they inform and form us into where we are today.

At the beginning of a year there are many things to look forward to. Most of them are unknown! Many things will happen in the next twelve months that we have no way of anticipating or even specifically planning for. Music will be there to become a soundtrack for our lives.

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.
― Confucius

◦ Music can turn us inward in reflection, the noble way of learning Confucius tells us.
◦ We imitate some of the greats of music in our learning process. I am not sure that in music that is as easy as Confucius thinks it is.
Experience can be bitter, because we will not always succeed at what we try. We will make mistakes we wish we didn’t make. We will hopefully learn from that experience. Music is a building of experiences. Which is what we look forward to for the next 12 months.

Go- and put your life into it! It’s worth it- as it has been for millennia in every culture.

Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.
— Confucius

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