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In My Bones
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable®
the nature of musicianship and the impact of this
still mysterious and nurtured ability.
Making the connection
...There was a moment at fourteen years of age when
I became conscious of a profound physical connection
with rhythm. That moment brought me into the family
I realised that 'felt' rhythmical patterns and structures
in music are the key to becoming musical. Perhaps
an instinctive ability to 'feel' these patterns had
been there all along. I guessed this is what people
meant when they said I was a 'natural musician', on
the other hand I knew in my heart that although people
had praised me for being 'musical' I'd only just entered
the limitless possibilities of exploring and experiencing
the world of music.
An island voyage
Becoming a musician is like journeying a strange and
powerful sea. A musician is a lone sailor who ventures
far then returns home to find the journey has changed
everything. The self-discipline of practice, the acquisition
of musical knowledge, and the development of musicianship
sets musicians apart from those around them. This
sense of seperation is equally experienced by anyone
who devotes considerable time and effort in developing
their expressive and creative skills.
In a formal setting where young people adopt the paths
educational institutions provide, musicians begin
to establish themselves into a musical community that
provide opportunities to perform, work with, and be
praised among. The danger of such a community is the
cocooned and dislocated state of mind that so often
results from spending the majority of time with others
who see and experience the world in a similar way.
Musicians and their families will continue to be drawn
towards a context where achievements can be easily
recognised and rewarded, but the cost of that security
is the separation of many musicians from the common
person on the street.
The voice of the many
Jazz music, like all styles of music before it, has
been adopted then encouraged as part of an established
repertoire by formal educational and cultural institutions.
Jazz music is now a body of art-music that is studied,
performed, and given status by the cultural elite.
Despite this, there remains at the heart of jazz music,
a voice that touches the many. Why this should be,
and how jazz music connects to what is the essence
of being a musician, is the focus of the remainder
of this article.
Something moves, we
When we are exposed to a sound pattern that is out
of the ordinary (but at least persistent enough that
we recognise the sound as a pattern), we respond at
a fundamentally curious and physical level. This visceral
message and response to sound and time is the kernel
We are inextricably connected with our world in a
profound 'principle of movement': as objects move,
our bodies move. A ball bounces, the sound wave strikes
our ear drum: a part of us moves. The signal, the
connection, is made. We become a part of the music,
it is why we dance.
Jazz music is rhythmically complex. As humans we have
a contradictory relationship with complexity. We enjoy
experiencing complexity but are far less enthusiastic
about understanding complexity. I guess that's why
I've always loved the ideas that science issues, yet
rarely pursued the revelations mathematics can bring.
The division of time
Stay with me during the following section as I attempt
to uncover the root of the difference between much
Western music and Jazz music. This may sound a little
esoteric at times, but is crucial in understanding
the character of jazz music.
In western Art Music (often referred to as 'Classical'
music) the spaces of time between sounds that differ
(the rhythm), are most often confined to fractions
that evenly split a pulse. The beat (an even and regular
pulse that may be heard or internalised) is most often
split into half, a quarter, an eighth and so on. On
less frequent occasions triplets of one kind or another
can be found in Western Art Music. Triplets are where
the beat, or group of beats, are divided into three.
The division of a beat into 3 is more complex than
by 2. Divide 1 by 2 and you get a half (0.5). Divide
1 by 3 and you get a third (0.33 recurring).
'Classical' Musicians often find complex triplets
difficult to perform because of the need to divide
time into elaborate fractions. Jazz music however
is characterised by the frequent use of triplets and
more 'difficult' fractions. Those who enjoy jazz have
an innate ability to perceive (although not necessarily
to understand) these fractions of time. Jazz musicians
have the ability to perceive and coordinate their
physical movements with these time divisions when
playing a musical instrument (again not necessarily
understanding their instinctive ability).
All that jazz
I have used the term 'Jazz Music' throughout this
article in a very broad fashion. My intention was
to uncover the root of what defines jazz music. Although
jazz harmony is an important element of jazz music,
like all music, the primary element is time. Harmony
is the way notes progress and relate in terms of pitch
(pitch is how high or low a sound is, a note is a
sound with a dominant pitch).
Time is our primary element. It is time and the perception
of it that creates the profound union we have with
Of sound voice and heart
Music at it's best does not only make us move, but
also makes us feel. It seems our connection with the
world is made easy when we, together with others,
break into common voice and become far more than an
de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®.
Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music
composer, photographer, print and web site designer,
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