Music is a story that must be told.
What is your favorite piece of music? If you’re anything like me, you can’t limit it to just one piece, one performance, or even one genre. A few things off my list include:
“Killing Me Softly” – Roberta Flack (Fugees were okay, but I have to go with the OG.)
“Goodness of God” – Bethel. Those aren’t tears; my beard is just sweating.
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16 – Edvard Grieg. This has almost anything a pianist could want with awesome collaboration from the orchestra.
Almost anything by Chopin.
“Esa Mujer” – Tony Vega.
“Resolution” (A Love Supreme IV) – John Coltrane.
“Total Praise” – Richard Smallwood.
Some of these are specific recordings and performances. Others are the actual piece itself. That said, ALL of them tell a story. There may not be a single word uttered or mention of the piece’s history, but all of them have a narrative that speaks to me on some level.
You don’t need to have a degree in music theory to break these pieces down and compare the individual sections to the “parts” of a story. Remember those English classes? Exposition – Rising Action – Climax – Falling Action – Resolution? Musical analysis uses terms with similar functions. Songs often have Introductions, Verses, Choruses, Interludes, Bridges, etc. In actual (as opposed to “theoretical”) literature and music, there may be unexpected directional shifts, be they season cliffhangers or a distant key change.
Don’t let the terminology scare you.
The point is that music and literature take you from one place to another. As a musician and performer, it is my job to tell the musical story in the way that best serves the music. When I collaborate with other musicians, we work together to tell that musical story. If I step into the role of a musical director, my role is to lead the entire group in telling the story. None of these things “just happen” without study and preparation. Just because someone excels in one area does not necessarily mean they are prepared in all of these areas. That does not mean they are even knowledgeable in all of those areas.
As I write this, I have been studying music for over 40 years of my life. Often times, I find myself wondering if music-lovers and enthusiasts truly know the work that goes into it. Many “get it” and yet there are others who regard and treat musicians – whose work they claim to love – with thinly-veiled contempt. I believe that musicians must be our own greatest advocates.
At this point, I am not sure which direction this series of posts will go, but I hope to pull the veil back on what we musicians do and perhaps spark discussion on how we might serve people better.
Until next time,
TKP – 2/8/23