Symmetry, aesthetics, and phrasing

[Music: Flight of the Bumblebee]

We live in a world of order and symmetry, one of of aesthetic curves, arcs, and parabolas.

The planets orbit around the sun and the moons around the planets in predictable paths. Even when scientists can't see the entire orbit, they can nonetheless calculate where the planet or moon will be at a given time. Balls thrown into the air will have a certain arc to them due to gravity. If it weren't so then baseball and football players wouldn't be able to catch fly balls or touchdown passes. Even if a segment of the path is obscured (for instance, if the player blinks) it is easy to predict where the object will reappear. There is inevitability from when the ball is released, to its flight path, and then to its final place of landing.

Seashells, pine cones, and tree branches also exhibit wonderful aesthetic symmetries. The nautilus shape of a shell starts with the smallest form in the middle and then increases in size proportionally.

It shouldn't be surprising then that symmetries, arcs, curves, and proportions are also found in music. Joseph Robinson, the former Principal Oboist of the New York Philharmonic, states that “Music is sculptured sound.” The task of the musician then is to bring the same sense of order and inevitability that is found in nature and also in many visual art works to the aural experience of the listener. Listeners should be able to understand where the music is going and when the arrival points are reached.

Metrical proportion and subdivision are important for the shaping of musical phrases. Rubato, that is the gradual speeding up and slowing down of the tempo of music, should be applied with the same care and sense of proportion that one sees in planetary orbits or in the flight path of a ball. A sudden change in proportion will make the resulting phrase ending unpredictable.

Marcel Tabuteau, who was the famous pedagogue of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, used to carry a ball with him. This would remind him of the motions produced when a ball is thrown or bounced.

My view is that there is a Creator to all we see and that this Creator has endued this creation with a sense of order, unity, and harmony. I as a musician am creating my own sound world where I want to project to my listener the sense of harmony, order, inevitability, tension, release, and climax in the music.

Let me give an example of how proportion and subdivision can be applied to music. This is the opening of the first of Orefici's 20 Melodic Studies. Many of the phrases in this study will benefit from well applied rubato. Rubato is always best applied by hearing subdivisions so that the melody is proportionally shaped.

I am going to play the opening of this and I am going to tongue eighth notes so that you can hear so that you can hear the subdivisions that I am hearing internally and that I am then going to project as the shape.

[music: Orefici #1]

I think that you could hear that the tempo at which the subdivisions were played gradually sped up to the downbeat of the second measure. There is a sense of motion, a sense of moving forward. As a car goes down a hill you have a sense of motion and arrival. As you arrive at the base of that hill though and you start going back up, then the motion of the car proportionally slows down. I am trying to duplicate that sense of motion and inevitability that one might feel in a car or a roller coaster in the musical phrase that I have here.

You also, with this increase and decrease in tempo, have a sense that the music breathes. Tension mounts as the tempo increases and the tension s released as the tempo slows down. The eighth notes were very carefully proportioned in this spacing. As they approached the climax they were proportionally closer. Then the spacing becomes further apart.

Let me play that for you one more time.

[music: Orefici #1]

I have just given to you the analogy of the car, the other analogy to think about it the rotation of a planet around the sun. The planet accelerates as it comes to the closest point to the sun, the perigee,

and then it decelerates as it goes further.

Here is that example one more time for you. This time without the tonguing.

[music: Orefici #1]

All the while I am still hearing the subdivisions so that it is proportional during the phrase.

Thank you for listening to this video. I hope it has helped you reflect upon music and how music can aesthetically reflect what is seen in nature, what is seen in our world at this time. Thank you very much. Bye.

[Music: Flight of the Bumblebee, ending]