Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Just a thought in passing (my computer):

Realized upon reading that last post that I'd coupled the name Vivaldi with Billy Strayhorne and Duke Ellington. Any reader might see that as odd, in a way. Surely these could not be seen as peers, or could they? In my world the answer is a resounding "yes!"

His daughter is a very fine musician who doubles as artistic director of a great chamber music group with which she performs. She plays viola, magnificently. Have attended her concerts and am struck by how disciplined and exact is European music; so unlike that which I've heard and/or participated in for most of my life. I was never serious musician, but surely possessed a knowing and educated ear with some small talent to match. I've been creating music since childhood, and performed with those with greater expertise than my own on occasion. Most of my own music comes from somewhere deep within; is not intellectual. Not learned. Simply "known." I'd always believed that what I knew, everyone knew.

For me, there is a clear difference between black and white cultures. White (European) culture seems to reward adherence to what has gone before. Faithful emulation of style and substance in the arts provides the measure of worth. The great masters have already made their brilliant contributions, and (like the bible to the Christian), are the paragons -- provide the template -- for what follows down through time. The "translations" are quite literal. Interpretation is subtle and can rarely be detected by the untrained ear, but only by those educated to the original presentation of a composition by the composer.

On the other hand, Black culture tends to reward originality,innovation, and creativity. We continue to set the pace in the arts (particularly music), and to create the road map for others to follow. Until recently, one would rarely hear any new black artist rise to prominence without having created some new sound or pattern or beat. The Billie Holidays and Duke Ellingtons and Charlie Parkers and Ella Fitzeralds each brought individuality (style) into the music, and set new standards for their imitators. It seems only since the world of black music has been effected by its commercial worth that this has changed. What can be "marketed" now dictates what rises to the top and not what is a strong new direction by some innovative vocal or instrumental artist. The marketplace is changing the criteria slowly but surely. But "the beat" within us will survive even market trends, I trust.

We're continuously creating and re-creating language from the streets, the music, dance, decade after decade, and having an effect upon the cultures of the rest of the world despite all. Hip Hop has replaced bebop and fusion of my time, and ushered in this worldwide phenomenon that the young people of every country now reflects back to us.

I cannot believe that any "great master" at any time in history could have -- as did choirmaster Terrence Kelly -- molded that choir at his illustrious father's funeral into the stirring "instrument" that could perform the thrilling soul-piercing original rendition of "Steal Away" that brought unshed tears that remained for hours afterward -- waiting for release and finding none. There are no words ... .

It's occurred to me in sitting in the audience in (middle American) Lafayette, that if my friend or his daughter has a deaf ear for or lack of understanding and appreciation of Jazz or Hip Hop they are seen as expressing their personal "taste" in music. On the other hand, if I have no ear for or understanding of chamber music or the symphonic works of Haydn, it tends to be seen as a cultural deficit -- a flaw in my education or training -- and surely indicates my level of sophistication.

This also may simply be associated with my declining interest in European cultures over the past several decades, since re-discovering more of African sensibilities. But it gives me some inkling into the distances still to be negotiated between worlds, and of my own need to continue to locate the bridges -- and cross them when possible.

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