Wyrd music – Other themes

The following notes provide a shorthand summary of some of the other themes and ideas behind Heart Of Music.

Being vs. doing

  • emotions as transient personae – allowing them to be transient ‘threads of the wyrd’
  • ‘wearing’ moods and emotions rather than trying to think them or act them
  • letting go of emotion: especially, reclaiming ‘I’ after a performance

Centering: succeed by relaxing, working with the flow of energy

  • we never have control, but we do have choices: hence we can choose to direct the flow, and dance with it, to reach the results we want
  • working with the wyrd: “there’s always a choice, there’s always a twist” (hence control is a myth, an impossibility)
  • Inverse Murphy: “things can go right, if you let them do so; if you only let them work in expected ways, you’re limiting your chances!”
  • working with fear (e.g. stage-fright, fear of failure): importance of allowing ‘safe-space’ for fears and foul-ups (example re. well-rehearsed piece fouled up in primary-schools performance, but unrehearsed piece went through without problems in major competition)

Feelings: reprise on being rather than doing

  • parallels with pathworking in magical environment (‘magic is a technology of the mind’)
  • parallels with actors’ workshop (e.g. improvisation techniques)
  • cross-link to mask-work (mask as literal ‘per-sona’, ‘that through which I sound’ – direct parallel with musical instrument as mask)


Much of musical training/education/technique (e.g. scales, arpeggios) is intended to build up ‘body-knowledge’, such that technical operation of instrument is automatic; past a certain level of skill (certainly for anyone at or above semi-professional or music-student level) awareness of self will increasingly become a more significant restraint on musical performance than will technical ability

  • trust that the body does know what to do in order to achieve the required result – our task is to get our own personal issues (fears, etc.) out of its way!
  • distinction between control and direction in relation to body-knowledge

Importance of play

Tendency amongst professional musicians (esp. classically trained) to become over-serious about music: where is the space for play?

  • we play an instrument, we don’t ‘work’ it
  • need for freedom (‘being disciplined about indiscipline’), safe place to make mistakes (‘mis-takes’), otherwise fear of failure comes to dominate progress
  • development of ‘clown’ skills, both as comedy/relief from over-seriousness and as use of parody to hone musical skill/awareness (analogy with ‘teaser’/Morris-dance ‘clown’ – requires high level of skill to be able to parody, point out/highlight mistakes in real-time, yet still fit in exactly with the dance)

Being rather than doing: re-interpretation of standard musical terms

(note practical issue: feel the emotion, but trust that the body will continue to play the instrument as required)

  • emotion and tempo are closely interlinked: if having difficulty with the emotion, focus on the tempo, and vice versa
  • reach inside oneself to find a personal experience of the same emotion, then hold/remain aware of that feeling in body whilst playing
  • unlike actors, direct expression of emotion for musicians (e.g. tears in sadness/fear, increased heart-rate/breathing in anger) may interfere with technical requirements of instrument (esp. wind-instruments) – need to remain aware of feeling but focus it to allow expression through instrument rather than through body as such
adagio leisurely – not so much a slow tempo as a leisurely mood –
imagine a country stroll with a friend
agitato agitated – explore the feeling
alla marcia in the style of a march – note transition to martial energy
allargando broadening out – become expansive, widen your boundaries, welcome others in safety
allegro lively – a bright conversation with friends
andante walking – note the difference in feel between a firm walk and a leisurely stroll (‘adagio’)
animato animated – what animates you? – for what do you reserve your enthusiasm (literally, ‘filled with God’)?
cantabile in a singing style – what’s the emotional difference between playing an instrument and singing? what part does the breath play in expressing emotion?
crescendo not so much ‘becoming louder’ as increasing tension, increasing excitement – use sexual imagery if appropriate (pre-orgasmic); alternatively, sense of swelling, expanding, projecting boundaries outward
deciso decisive, firm – where is certainty within yourself?
diminuendo becoming softer rather than becoming quieter – decreasing tension, but without collapse; alternatively, sense of containment, pulling boundaries inward towards self-focus
dolce sweetly – note possible transition to sickly-sweet!
espressivo expressive, with feeling – what is the feeling of the music?
forte strong – not ‘loud’ in the sense of a volume-level, it’s an assertive mood – imagine standing firm and saying ‘No’ or ‘Yes’ (depending on the feel of the music), projecting your voice rather than shouting louder
fortissimo very strong – certainty, clarity – projecting your voice to the very back of the hall, yet without actually needing to raise your voice
grazioso gracious – imagine a stately minuet (in full 17th/18th century costume)
giocoso humorously – but where is the joke? – is it against someone (mocking), a light-hearted banter (Gilbert & Sullivan), bawdy (music-hall), intellectual (needing a knowledge of music to ‘get’ the joke), or what? what sense of humour is implied in the phrasing of the music itself?
largo slow and stately – emphasis on ‘stately’ as a mood – note possible transition to sombre, sad, funereal, or to a swelling open-hearted expansiveness
legato smoothly – the emotional inverse of ‘tenuto’, holding onto nothing, letting each note pass from one to the next
leggiero lightly – briefly just touching each note – a sense of wonder
lento slowly – notice difference in energy between this and ‘largo’ (tends to be sadder, quieter, whereas ‘largo’ can be quite loud)
maestoso majestically – where is majesty within you? where do you express it? – transitions to arrogance, pomposity, or to a quieter valid pride in self and in others
meno mosso less movement – watch transition into self-censoring, self-restricting – instead, pull energy inward, more contained
moderato moderately – watch transition into ‘everything in moderation’ or even to mediocrity
piano soft – not ‘quiet’ in the sense of a volume-level, it’s a quiet/gentle feeling/mood which often becomes quieter in volume as a result – imagine holding a child, or quiet time with a lover
pianissimo very soft (extend the imagery of ‘piano’)
piu mosso more movement – move energy outward, but keep the focus – which way is the music going? focus the energy there
pomposo pompously – where is a valid pomposity within you? – note tendency to transition to self-parody or to vanity, whereas pomp is literally ‘a guide’ (e.g. psychopomp, the guide of the soul at death)
presto very quick – also excited, energetic
semplice simply – a sense of innocence, a direct contrast to the almost reflex sophistication of techical expertise
sforzando forced, accented – can be the clipped energy of anger (“do you get that?”), or the sharp-attack/fast-decay cycle of hard work
solenne solemn – but not necessarily sad or sombre, more an expression of depth
sostenuto sustained – where do you maintain your energy?
spirito spirit, life, energy
tranquillo quiet, tranquil – the calm after a storm, or just at peace within self
vivace lively – where is your own aliveness?

All of the above descriptions aim to move away from the reflexive seriousness of most classical music education, and to illustrate the experience behind the term, rather than a conceptualisation. It’s also useful to experiment with older European folk music for both song and/or dance – especially modal tunes – as other emotions are commonly described/experienced there: pride, boldness, wildness, fear, sadness, anger, and so on (e.g. sarcasm in “Cam Ye Ower Frae France?”, Jacobite song, c.1715); also some popular music (such as bitterness/cold fury in “In The Air Tonight”, Phil Collins, c.1985)

Expression/boundaries – music as a shield

Why are you involved in music? For some people it’s the only way they were permitted to express themselves, or the only way they felt safe in expressing themselves:

  • music as a literal ‘per-sona’; analogue in engineers (often work with machines because it’s emotionally safer than working with people); coming out from behind the mask (acknowledging ‘unsafety’, working with the fear rather than pretending it’s not there – boundary-work for ‘collapsed’ character-structure)
  • loss of energy by trying to reach out to others: instead, practice containment, then open the boundary to invite others in, or expand boundary outward to include everyone within it whilst still maintaining clear sense of self (“I have a right to be here, no less than the trees and stars)
  • emphasis that nothing is ‘wrong’ with using/having used music as a shield/mode of expression – all we’re doing is making it a choice rather than our only means of expression (danger of dependency)

Expression/boundaries – need for attention

Why are you involved in music? For some people it’s the only way in which they were acknowledged by others or self, or the only way they thought they would get attention from others, so the music can become entangled with other personal needs – using musical performance to ‘buy being liked’; need for containment, self-validation (boundary-work for ‘swollen’ character-structure) – ‘taking’ energy from others – risk of dependency/addiction, especially if music used as a shield from past emotional/spiritual abuse/isolation; develop containment

Expression/boundaries – playing for self

Why are you involved in music? For some people it’s because it’s something that others wanted – mother, father, relatives, teachers – rather than something they themselves chose: useful to explore what ‘voices’ are heard behind the music, especially in difficulties with practice, to establish music as a personal choice rather than a living-out of someone else’s choice

Stage-fright, boundaries and energy management

Why is there so much difference between home-practice, group-rehearsal, recorded performance and live performance? Much of it is fear of judgement, not just of performance, but of self – “everyone’s looking at me!” Need for exploration of boundary-management (inviting others in to share, rather than forcing others to listen, or ‘stealing’ energy) and validation of self (others’ judgement – or projected fear of self-judgement – becomes irrelevant)

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