rhythm, culture, orchestras, and smiles

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society: Brave New World

Darcy has another great entry in his rhythmic authority series, which (as I have stated before) shows how deeply he gets it. Go there, read, and watch the video.

I don’t mean to encourage stereotypes here, but let’s look at rhythmic stereotypes for a minute. If some thing is totally not grooving, we say it sounds white. The culture that has produced the aesthetic that informs most classical orchestras is know for its lack of rhythmic authority. Is it any surprise that orchestras tend to be rhythmically loose. Latin and African descended cultures tend to be much more rhythmic, at least in stereotype, so it is no surprise that the Venezuelan kids can rock out. I played a concert under Carlos Miguel Prieto, and he seemed to pull the rhythmic reigns tighter than most, and the group grooved (relatively speaking). Maybe it is a latin thing. Prieto seemed to be having fun too, which brings on my next point.

The other thing about that video that got me was the amount of fun that was visible on their faces. These musicians are having a blast! We forget that in too many genres. Serious jazz artists can take themselves and their music way too seriously. I remember sitting in the Louisiana Philharmonic trombone section next to my college teacher. He was grumbling about something, and I said, “Dick, you don’t make enough money not to be having fun.” He didn’t laugh…or quit grumbling. Of course it is easy for me to have fun on that gig, I only do it once or twice a year, and maybe grumbling is how he has fun, but audiences react to smiling faces.

I love the Tomorrow Music Orchestra sticker that reads “Experimenting with the idea that music is really fun!” We should all do that more often.

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3 thoughts on “rhythm, culture, orchestras, and smiles

  1. Hey Jeff,

    Thanks for the link.

    It’s not even so much a “white thing” as it is a specifically “German-French-Italian-English art music thing.” Like I said, the Hungarians take rhythmic authority seriously, as do the Balkans, the Slavs, and the Spanish. But there’s obviously a long history here of an elevated high art music that places itself above that filthy, filthy groove that the rubes seem to like so much.

  2. So, reviewers should be willing to review a computer burned CD-R the same as a slickly packaged full-color commercially produced CD, but scowling musicians should not be as well-received as smiling ones? I don’t see the difference. I think it’s a good point to make from the performer’s perspective (i.e. if we are always unhappy, we should find another profession), but as a listener, quite frankly, I really don’t care if the players look uptight (or even if they actually are) as long as the music is happening. In fact, I especially hope that they take what they are doing “seriously.” The opposite case would be another good reason to take up some other vocation.

  3. In short, yes. However, I did not advocate lesser reception for scowlers, I just stated the fact that audiences respond to smiling faces.

    Maybe “smiling faces” was not the right choice of words. Maybe I should have written that audiences react to “faces that do not look to be annoyed by the task at hand.”

    Fun and serious are not mutually exclusive in music.

    Back to the packaging. When one listens to a CD all of the stimuli come from the speakers. I guess one could argue that looking at the packaging while listening could be another factor, but I wouldn’t put it on equal footing. At a live performance there are many non-aural stimuli that have a great affect on the perception of the performance. The other night my wife and I attended an improvised bass duo performance in a bookstore. The event was extraordinarily well attended, and we found ourselves listening from behind a large brick post. It was an interesting example of how much the visual aspect of a performance affects our perceptions. I won’t say it was better or worse, but it was much different.

    So the difference is that a musician’s scowl tells me something about his lack of respect for the music at hand, or the audience, or both. A CDR only tells me about a musicians lack of the capacity to gamble sums of money on nice packaging.

    In any case, if the music is really good none of the other stuff matters. I guess ultimately I am agreeing with you that we should look past packaging and listen to the music. I still think that if you are playing a mambo, a smile leads to a better groove than a scowl.

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