Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Musical Journey

by Bonnie Harris

As a music major I had to take countless music theory classes, most of which happened to be 20 & 21st century music. Not my favorite era, but I did what I had to and hated most of it. It wasn't until I did my graduate work that I really began to appreciate and look forward to my theory classes. Today I can say that I enjoy theory (as long as you don't ask me to spell German, French or Italian augment second chords right now. I've forgotten some of that. (: )

The first semester of my freshman year was basic theory. We moved through the fundamentals at lightening speed and got into some pretty complex things by the end of the semester. The second half of the class (2nd semester), moved just as fast. I found my head spinning and I couldn't keep up. Major minor second of the fifth inversion in the root key while modulating to what? Needless to say, I was in over my head.

I humbled myself enough to ask my dad for help (a veteran of music). He took one look at what I was trying to do and threw it all out saying, "Let's start at the begin." He then walked me through the fundamentals, making sure I completely understood the process before moving on. After awhile, lots of tears and frustration I finally began to see how it all applied to what I was expected to do. It finally made sense. (And then 20th century music broke every rule possible, but that's another story.)

This week in church we talked about President Uchtdorf's talk "Of Things That Matter Most."It's a fabulous talk if you don't remember it or haven't read it. As I read through it again, my music theory experience came to me along with a musical journey. So I thought I'd take you on the same journey before I tie it all together.

Gregorian Chants are the first known notated music. It is basically vocal and in a theoretical sense, very simplistic. Of course even the most simple thing can be made complicated if need be, but as a listener you can hear how uncomplicated it is. Click here to listen.

Jumping a little bit in history, I moved to Johann Sebastian Bach. This particular piece should sound familiar to most people. Right away you can hear that it's instrumental and not vocal, but listen to how many different voices have been added. Again theoretically, it is considered fairly simple, but definitely more complex than Gregorian Chants. Click here to listen. ( You'll have to click again on the right hand side of the linked page. It's a little more complicated but hey, it's free!)

Our next stop is Ludwig von Beethoven. Beethoven is a pivotal point in music history. He pushed the boundaries and expanded the form of symphony into what we know it as today. Again this should be familiar.

Download this mp3 from

Our last stop is Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky, one of my favorite composers. His work may not sound like it is more complex than Beethoven, but theoretically speaking the chord structure is much thicker. Click here listen to the last movement of his 5th symphony.

Now I could get into 20 & 21st century music, but most of it has destroyed all structure (theorists would shoot me for saying that) and is really not pleasant to listen to. Anyway, I have found that when my life becomes really overwhelming and I am stressed out of my mind I don't want to listen to the complexity of the later music. It's too much for my brain to take in and analyze. I crave the simplicity and fundamental approach of the earlier music. It simplifies my life.

President Uchtdorf, in his talk, spoke about not running faster than you are able and simplifying life. Do those things that matter most. Run only as fast as your particular situation allows you to. Go back to the basics and build up from there as you are able to. So, in music, during those complicated times, I found myself going back to the basics and life became more manageable.

Someone asked how you make the decision on what is the best choice to make. I found myself thinking about that question while listening to President Uchtdorf's talk as well. My suggestion, go back to the basics. I make sure I'm doing all the fundamental things first (those become the best choice) and then build from there. Usually when those things are done, the best choices show themselves along the way.

1 comment:

  1. Funny little fact from my musical theatre class, ballerina's did not like dancing to Tchaikovsky's ballets because the complexity of his music made them hard to dance to. Your post is definitely what I needed to hear today!