Context

Published: Jan 3, 2018  |   Category: Random (Musical) Thoughts


On this beautiful, cold, snowy, Wednesday morning, I am sitting in my living room getting ready to write. I am enjoying my son play experimentally on the piano. It has been so good to have him home from college this Winter break and I'm kind of sad to see him leave in a few days. Our musical moments together have been fun and inspiring for me. He and his Aunt Casey gave my husband and me a little drum lesson while in Indianapolis over Christmas, and I can play simple drum beats now on the snare, high hat and bass (think "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson). And, Christian is getting it too! Our muscle memory for drumming is setting in.  Yea!!!!  

Back to his piano playing. What he is producing sounds wonderful and contrasts the gray of the sky in a way that makes everything seem a bit warmer. I feel like I'm in a cafe somewhere warm, book in hand, while the colors and textures of the sounds, complete with varying beats of arpeggio flow to jazz-infused Salsa-like staccato fill the room. I've always been amazed at the naturalness at which he plays any instrument, especially without having had many private lessons on any one instrument. A few here and there, being introduced to what was necessary from which to build, and he was off, doing it his way.  And he has his own style, that's for sure, which I just love.

Then out of nowhere he says, "It's interesting how context changes a chord progression."  I'm back in my living room.  He asks me to analyze two usages of a chord. "Which one sounds correct?" he asked. Now, I don't remember what they were named, but one had a 9th attached to it; the other was suspended with some augmented action attached to it.  Initially, they both sounded good to me.  But that word "context" jolted me because it made me look (hear) in a deeper way.  He played the chords melodically first, then harmonically.  Ah! I could see the context better, especially when played melodically.  I then said, "It all depends on how you want to articulate the meaning of what you are expressing in the moment. What sounds correct is subjective.  It is more of what you are shaping in that part of the music that makes it correct, like what is the story you are telling in that moment."  Context. What are the circumstances - in this case, the usage of chordal structure you want to use to make this happen in the music moment.  For example, adding a minor 7th changes the flavor than simply using the 1st, 3rd and 5th of a chord. Then, when you start augmenting or diminishing or suspending notes and sprinkling them with detached eighth notes and syncopated beats, ah, this becomes more to the story.  Context.  A useful word rich in literary and musical means.

These are the kinds of conversations my son and I have, whether it's about music, Old Testament studies, or relationships. They start from a random thought, usually something he projects, sometimes from a question I ask.

It's nice that a random (musical) thought brought about by the layering of chord progressions can turn a gray sky blue and a Mom's heart warm.


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  • Nannette wrote:
    nannettesfitnesssolutions@gmail.com
    I enjoyed reading it. Even though I love music - listening and dancing to it - I'm not technically inclined to the specifics like you and your son. However, the story you told engaged me. Love it!
    reply
    • Phyllis Calderon wrote:
      pcalderon@atouchofclassicalplus.com
      Glad you enjoyed it!