String Theory

Tocando_el_violin, photo by larou on Flickr
“Tocando el violin” by larou

I was in the studio the other day working out some string arrangements with a violin player. And I was trying to describe how I like my strings to sound or stack up. Due to my limited musical education the only word I could find to describe was ‘proper’! Not exactly great direction but what did I actually mean by that?

In ancient China music was said to represent the harmony between Heaven and Earth. In ‘The Book of Rites’, it was explained that the inner spirit of music is harmony, not chaos, and that the role of music is to make people happy with a loving kindness.

In the West music was classed as a sacred art, given to those who had gained enlightenment, wisdom or inspiration in monasteries or other such settings. It was driven out of a wish to venerate God or other deities in the most beautiful way humanly possible. Cultivation of voices and technique were placed uppermost out of respect to God and Heaven. Composition and harmony were thus taken very seriously as a result.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, together with the renowned composer Felix Mendelssohn, inspired by the thinking of the great German minds of the Enlightenment movement, believed that classical music could instil moral and even physical virtue and could be the answer to many of society’s ills. By the end of her reign most households of the middle to upper classes in England owned a piano.

In recent times scientists have found that listening to classical music can regulate the listener’s brain wave function, improve ones capacity for thought and even improve ones intelligence. It is even believed it can regulate cell growth and improve ones health.

So, what do I mean by ‘proper’? Through learning this information I came to realize that as a musician I have a social responsibility to understand the effects that the music I make can have on the listener. As a result whenever I get the chance to indulge in adding strings or orchestration I try to take a leaf out of the classical Master’s book and add a little propriety and righteousness to my arrangements in the hope it has a positive and beneficial effect on all who listen.

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