Saturday, September 26, 2020


Something about this word, this concept, this range of meanings has been on my mind over the past week. The variety of definitions is a bit daunting, and that’s actually appealing to me, in a way.

After so very many years teaching the first year of music theory (species counterpoint, diatonic harmony, small forms, then the beginnings of chromatic harmony, larger forms), and a few years of more advanced theory, as well as years of ear-training at all levels–and especially years of composition at all levels–I talk alot about energy. I talk alot about tension, resolution, suspension, maintaining levels of energy, accumulating energy, building to arrival points, allowing energy to dissipate.

There’s nothing particularly new or remarkable about this, of course. But I wonder if it could make sense to make this discussion of potential energy and kinetic energy an integral part of studying the topics i’ve been teaching. That is, rather than using “energy” references to to shine a light on, to elucidate concepts of musical cadences, or harmonic progressions’ strengths, of harmonic rhythm, etc., somehow qualify (quantify?) the momentum within various moments so that there’s a vocabulary that relates to dramatic momentum, in addition to (if not instead of) technical descriptions.

Does it make sense to call this momentum, or am i misunderstanding what momentum is?

I think that, in part, my questioning here has to do with a long-standing problem I’ve sensed in the “scientific” objectivity of “music theory.” That field, to which i am absolutely an observer more than participant, seems to have tried to be perceived as objective in the 1950s and onward, but that led–at least to my sensibilities as performer, then composer–to discussions of music which were not rooted in what’s heard in music, vs. what’s seen on the page. And that’s been an enormous obstacle for me, perhaps especially given my development as a musician arising from non-notated, improvised music.

So as I think about music as drama (not for nothing, but this makes me think of the well-known book by Joseph Kerman, “Opera As Drama”), that really makes me wonder about how those in theatre arts, dance, poetry, film, calligraphy, visual and plastic arts, etc., not to mention those in different facets of these arts (performers, writers/painters/sculptors/composers, directors/choreographers, etc.) think about momentum.

Then, of course, there’s momentum in aspects of life–relationships, moods, physical states, tolerance, patience–and in any area of pursuit, really. Momentum is, it seems, another word for life, or at least for living.

I brought this up in conversation with a performer-colleague a few nights ago, and it seems to have sparked curiosity in him, as well. Perhaps he’ll jot down some thoughts.

Perhaps there’s an anthology of essays to be collected and shared. Do you have any ideas about this you’d like to share? Would love to hear your thoughts, no matter the pursuits most dear to you.

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