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January 21, 2010 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 2010-01-21

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4B - Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.cam 0

4B - Thursday, January 21, 2010 The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom *

Musicologist James Grier examines the methods of music intake

By DAVID RIVA medieval West to preserve details
Daily Arts Writer that certain singers found diffi-
cult to retain in memory for cul-
People learn through a variety tural reasons," he explained in an
of methods, from the visual to the e-mail interview. "It has evolved
auditory to the into a complex set of instruc-
experiential. To MUSiCaIl tions from composer to perform-
accommodate er or between performers. Oral
this, the methods Literacy: processes could preserve these
of passing down A HiStorial details with equal fidelity, but the
information must use of notation has become a short
be just as varied. PerSPeCtiVe form for composers to coordinate
From a musicolo- Friday at a large number of musical events
gist's perspec- 5p.m. in an economical way."
tive, there exists "If you go to the British Library
a question over Memornial Tower or Museum and go to the Beatles
whether music Free exhibit, you can see what The Bea-
is passed down ties wrote down in terms of nota-
predominantly tion," explained School of MT&D
through written notation, which Professor James Borders.
is perfect for the visual learner, or "You'd have 'Yesterday,' with
aural methods, which rely more chord changes on top, but not the
heavily on experience. notation note for note," Borders
It's a conundrum that James added, showing how the musical
Grier, Professor of Music His- dictation processes of some of his-
tory at the University of West- tory's greatest songwriters bridges
ern Ontario and guest lecturer the gap between the aural and the
in the School of Music, Theatre written.
& Dance's Musicology Distin- But the question of music's endur-
guished Lecture series, will pon- ance through history becomes more
der on Friday at Burton Memorial intriguing when applied to personal
Tower. According to Grier, the two experience. The question becomes
methods are complimentary and "how do I acquire musical knowl-
have both played a significant role edge" in an individual's own inter-
in the "recording, preservation action with music.
and communication of music." The obvious answer is that itnvar-
Grier claims the difference ies from person to person.
between notation and the aural Whether someone began to play
experience is "largely a matter of an instrumentby ear or through the
tradition and convention." aid of notes on a page can provide
"Notation was invented in the some insight into the background

of a musician. However, it doesn't question.
limit that person to one way of He claims that all musicians
learning about music. For most, the are "reliant on the skills (they've)
process goes in stages, starting by developed."
picking up an instrument, fiddling "I have a ton of colleagues that
around with it and then investigat- enjoy the hell out of playing the
ing what those arranged black dots notes on the page," he explained.
mean, or vice versa. "Where they live is in the interpre-
From Grier's perspective, the tation of the notation."
correlation between the two is com- The more important concern for
plimentary. Grier is not one of personal fulfill-
"The relationship between eye ment, but rather of definition and
and ear is problematic, but all musi- cultural acceptance.
cians use their ears to regulate the There's nothing he loathes more
sound they are producing from the than a student who says, "I'm not
notation in front of them," Grier a musician because I can't read
wrote. music."
"All of this (musical) literacy is
a matter of analogy to written and
Reading music is spoken language," Grier wrote.
"Like all analogies it limps; it's
not required. insufficient."
"To define yourself in our culture
as being a musician only if you can
translate the black dots on a page, I
"It is constantly a push-and-pull find a little bit culturally problem-
situation," he added. "Performers atic, because I think it shuts people
experiment with musical practices out, rather than including them,"
that composers or arrangers wish to Borders added.
work out in writing. And composers So the next logical question
and arrangers hear things in their is whether musicians should be
heads that require innovative nota- judged based on their ability to read
tions. Individual cases and musi- music. Does it really speak to an
cians engage in this push-and-pull essential technical skill?
in different ways." Grier's response is, at least par-
Push-and-pull aside, which tially, yes.
way of learning is more enjoyable? "In the Western tradition, there
In other words, has a preferred needs to be equal emphasis on
method emerged among modern both, as one regulates the other," he
musicians? wrote.
In Borders's opinion, it's a moot Borders went so far as to ques-

tion the significance of notation in
an age where music can be record-
ed and manipulated in so many dif-
ferent ways.
"(Written notation) can be
terrifically valuable," Borders
explained, "but we can record
music digitally."
"Composers can say 'OK I've got
these notes. Put them on the screen,
let's move this one around, make
this one louder, I think we need a
little more space there, let's cut and
paste that 50 times,"'he added.
Taking it a step further to
the world of reality TV, Borders
referred to "American Idol."
"Watch 'American Idol' -
you've got two genres that succeed
in that show," Borders said, speci-
fying the reoccurring gospel and
country idioms.
"None of the ornamentation that
they're using has ever been noted
down," he added. "The way these
people learn (the songs) has noth-
ing to do with recording in writing,
it has to do with recording on a tape
or digital space."
But ultimately it doesn't matter
if one method prevails. There is a
rich cultural history in the passing
down of musical knowledge, be it
through written notation or aural
experience. And both methods have
proven fruitful, so next time you
make fun of that bro inyour dorm or
hippie in the Diag strumming on a
beat-up acoustic, think of John Len-
non, Kelly Clarkson and all those
other "musical illiterates."

From Page 3B
music by the time you leave the
theater, and it has someone that
you may have studied in school.
And it has characters that you
may relate to, not just historical
. "We tried to juxtapose Abra-
ham Lincoln with other stories.
So there are other characters that
appear with their biographies
right next to Lincoln's biography,"
she added.
Jones mentions in another
video that he created one charac-
ter specifically for the show - a
conservative woman of Southern
heritage who was born in 1939.
"In juxtaposing such informa-
tion, maybe we find we can relate
to one of (the characters)," Wong *
said. "Maybe in hearing one story,
we can see ourselves in them.
Hopefully, we do. Hopefully, it's
not just about the dance company
or the musicians, but everybody
in the house can relate to this
story in the present, in the past,
and (can) maybe think about the
future and what choices we make
in the future. What choices we
make now affect our future."
If Abraham Lincoln is any indi-
cation, it only takes one man's
choices to change the course of
history. As we leave behind what
we think and focus our eyes on
what we see on stage, the Bill T.
Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Compa-
ny will bring the story of Lincoln
to life in a way that no history
book can.
E-mail join.arts@umich.edu
for information on applying.

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