The Composer Arranger – Final

HarryPotterBookI can’t do this. The gulf between the way the author puts things and the way I already understand them is too wide to be worth the effort for me to continue. Repeatedly I read a passage and puzzle and struggle for an undue amount of time only to discover that what I am reading is something I already understand so well that it is a part of me. Ultimately I believe that it is not the fault of the author and it is not my fault, but rather that in a very real sense we speak two different languages.

I will provide a couple examples of english language usage that non-musical types can more easily relate to, namely the Harry Potter books and the King James version of the Bible.

The Harry Potter books were originally written in British english. They were translated to American english for our viewing here in the States. Both are simply in the english language, are they not? Well, not exactly. The reading of common terms in British english are misleading to Americans. Observe.

What we call a flashlight here in America they call a torch in England. So Rowlings describes the kids going through a dark area holding a torch before them in order to see. Here with my sensibility I imagine a scene of these students holding a wooden rod with a burning flame to light the way when Rowlings instead intended the reader to instead imagine a simple flashlight. Since there are many such culture-specific terms used, translation was prudent in order to communicate effectively with the intended audience.

The King James version of the Bible is not something that a person unfamiliar with Elizabethan English should read as “gospel.” Not only was it edited to suit a specific agenda, but it contains many terms that modern readers will not be able to understand without undue effort.

In the King James, when describing a woman helping her husband in a fight with another man, she must not “taketh him by the secrets”, meaning that she must not grab or perhaps otherwise harm his genitals. The penalty for that like for so many things in the Bible is death. Because of this unintended mystery behind an older form of the language, I recommend that an American reader use a translation of the Bible based on the original texts that is translated into modern American english. Otherwise one is almost necessarily blind to what is actually in the Bible and reliant on someone else to tell them what it really means.

And so I have great difficulty in reading John Morton’s book “The Composer/Arranger”. It is not the author’s fault and hopefully it is not mine. The jazz orientation is something I can learn from, but the British terms and overall way of sentence construction which is likely a joy for some to read is sadly confounding to me. I regret this deeply because John Morton is a brilliant man from whom I could learn much.

I don’t like giving up, it is not really in my nature. But I see this more as a battle than a war. With great respect and hopefully with continued friendship, I need to seek elsewhere for growth in the music theory arena.

7 thoughts on “The Composer Arranger – Final

  1. Thanks for your input, Jim. It has prompted me to write my next blog about Anglo-American difference.

    I set out to make my book as clear as I possibly could and a consultant editor in London commented on its ‘practical directness’ which, he said, enhanced the text.

    Nevertheless, it’s what the customer thinks, at the end of the day. Those who ignore their customers deserve to perish.

    • Still, I am a customer of one. In a very valuable sense it was little things that rocked my isolated world. One example: you point out that the mediant and submediant chords are the same diatonic distance from the tonic. Very well and good. Perhaps oddly, this caused me to stop reading and to experiment at the piano while dropping any notion of traditional harmonic function and instead experimenting with sheer proximity. I did that for days, because of a couple innocent sentences.

      It felt like everything you wrote about was charged with where you were going, with where you wanted to go, instead of squarely dealing with the immediate matter at hand. It is also true that what people say, or obviously intend, is not what I actually hear. Mt wife can read a novel in a single session while the same book will take me a month — I am continually stopping, relating, imagining, isolating personal “truths”, and otherwise creating a larger picture and experience than was ever intended. My wife remembers the novel in great detail and I instead walk away with a completely different experience largely remembering what I have internalized while hardly remembering the surface details. So I am a different animal.

      I have a student tonight that is very much after my heart (as a teacher). She completely ignores what I ask her to do but does come back with something unexpected. Last week, out of the blue, she played me a tune that I didn’t recognize. It was not catchy, but rather interesting still. I asked her if it was a new composition and she laughed and said, “No! That was ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.’ What she had done was to slow the melody down to a snail’s pace, put that melody in the left hand bass as a Cantus Firmus, and built chords above that in the form of an Alberti Bass. I had taught her that simple bass figure, but I never told her to place it above in the right hand! Do I berate her for not at all doing her homework? Of course not. I endlessly showered her with praise and then had her teach me the piece and explained why some things were more effective than others. That one is a gem and a challenge.

      • My comment about the equal distance of the dominant and subdominant was one of many where I tried to unravel the mysteries of theory and explain the rules-behind-the-rules, JM.

      • I don’t think you said that, and I was confounded by my own thinking there as to the reason for the mention of the naming.

        I recall sitting there, after reading that little paragraph, within a major scale looking at a chord built on thirds over two octaves and thinking: it’s all one damned chord, every note of the scale is explicitly expressed in one 13th chord (which I knew but didn’t know). And then I went to projections of dissonance resolving to consonance, not by chord functionality but by how far out from the tonic the thirds projected and clashed against the tonic. That is more akin to contemporary art music, which I am not at all truly familiar with, while still entrenched in the diatonic scale in a dissonance-consonance distance-from-the tonic mindscape. But the leading tone still demands to go to the tonic directly. Arguably since the tonic is the dominant of the subdominant then it too pretends to want to go there although the tritone is not naturally present to commandingly drive it there. I couldn’t resolve all that together in a nice little tidy compartment in my head and ended up spending a week pouting and watching TV while it all ruminated unresolved. Damn you! ;)

        But the distance from the tonic, diatonically or chromatically, is not built in thirds but bidirectionally from the tonic which is more to your point. So chromatically there is the leading tone below and the Phrygian second from above. Both are dissonant and insisting on resolution to the tonic. Arguably this is fully expressed when one reaches a tritone away from the tonic chromatically or the dominant and subdominant diatonically. Etc.

        I sort of get it, but not in a truly useful way that I can casually pull out of my toolbox — for the time being.

  2. Pingback: Two countries separated by a common language | the composer/arranger

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