Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mask of Music

This post will NOT do justice to how I feel about music (and it's taken WAY too long to write). First, a quick summary. Music has been a part of my life for almost as long as I can remember and has almost become like an extension of my soul (cheesy, I know). Unlike many (most?) Asians, I was never forced to play an instrument but rather, I asked/begged to. I vaguely remember begging my parents to let me play the piano and going to a piano store to "try out" a piano. I've been playing the piano since before kindergarten (so before 7-years-old) and the cello since 5th grade. I can't imagine my life without playing my instruments, and over time, a Mask of Music has formed.

Under this Mask of Music I can express what emotions I would normally keep locked up and I get lost in the music, lame as that sounds. There is a kind of freedom and intimacy in playing music, a kind of closeness. And it's different depending what instrument I'm on, and weird as it might sounds, each instrument has a particular personality that complements its player.
As mentioned above, the piano was my first instrument and my favorite/preferred instrument; it's difficult to put into words why.

Part of it is certainly because the piano is a solo instrument. The piano can do SO much more than any other single instrument that it can often "stand alone"; perhaps no other instrument (except the organ, which piano-like) can you play a note with all your fingers and use both your feet simultaneously. It's a complex instrument, and there's a certain level of hand and foot coordination with the piano, with the potential to integrate every limb. And the feeling of the keys and pedals pushing back is something you only really appreciate when you no longer feel it . . . it's really quite intimate, to be assured.

But most of all, I love the sound of a piano. It's clarity and brightness easily stands out. I don't even have a good analogy for it because it's so amorphous and flexible, capable of bending its sound to the pianist's emotion. I love it's ability to reflect exactly how I feel and what I want to convey. It's a very obedient instrument - its sound rarely wavers and it almost always likes to be played. Yeah, I tend to personify things, my instruments most of all; however, for whatever reason, I haven't attributed a gender and name to my piano. Perhaps it transcends those notions.

I like the cello for different reasons than the piano. Whereas the complexity, clarity, and brightness of the piano stands out, the cello is subtle, supportive, and introspective. I've never felt the cello to be a true solo instrument (though there are amazing solo cello pieces) as its voice is truly heard in an ensemble. Part of this is also the personality of my cello.

My cello is definitely female, if it had a gender. For a long time I had given it the name of Calypso, after the Greek sea goddess. Like the sea, my cello's personality is quite fickle and changes often depending on the situation. Sometimes it loves to sing out, and other times it almost willfully sounds crappy (like it's moody or something). I may have my intentions, but sometimes my cello has another. Also my cello's sound is most like the water, though sometimes it produces earthier sounds.

When played perfectly and correctly, the resonance and tone of my cello penetrates to the bone, the lower notes you can literally feel vibrating throughout your body. And of all the string instruments (violin, viola, cello, bass) the cello has the greatest range in notes. This allows the sound of a cello to be slow and sad to fast and excited, there's so many options and relatively few restrictions (for a really good player). The intimacy comes as much from the resonant sounds the cello produces as from playing the cello itself (you're kind of partly hugging your instrument).

But again, I don't consider the cello to be a solo instrument nearly as much as the piano. The cello, in an ensemble, is a support instrument. It's often the foundation in a quartet or trio, and all other sounds build up from it. Sometimes the cello's voice will sing out during a solo, and when it does, the entire tone changes - it becomes vibrant. In this sense, the cello is a perfect match for my personality. I don't always like to lead, but I'd rather be the support that everyone depends on who occasionally expresses his voice; there's a special kind of leadership to that.

Nature of Musical Notes
So I've a theory on the nature of musical notes. Notes and music can be either "vertical" or "horizontal." Vertical sounds emphasize each note so that each note is heard clearly and fully; the music delights in that single sound or chord. In contrast, horizontal sounds emphasize a phrase or theme as a whole, where it doesn't dwell on each note but rather places the importance on the way the notes link together.

The cello is a more vertical instrument in that each note can be fully appreciated and expressed; the tone and sound of a single note can also be changed while its being played. The piano is a more horizontal instrument, although chords can be vertical. The piano is capable of many runs and the option to play so many notes simultaneously lends itself to playing horizontally. A single note on the piano, once played, can't really change its nature; it's sound and tone is fixed, unlike that of a cello's.
I don't know if any of the above ramblings makes real sense to anyone but myself, or perhaps it only makes sense to those who've played an instrument all their lives, I don't know. This much I'm sure: when you've been playing an instrument long enough, you form a particular bond to the degree which, if you see someone damage that instrument, you flinch and feel your heart beating faster, sinking deeper into your chest. And this much I do know: when someone plays an instrument well - I mean really well - it sends chills up the spine and goosebumps across the arms. And sometimes when you hear a person (yourself or otherwise) play your instrument in a piece of music you like, you think to yourself: "That's why I play this instrument."

In an instant I'm reminded why I chose that instrument(s), why I've spent years learning and mastering its subtleties, how my Mask of Music has formed, and how I channel my emotions through that mask to give others on the other side a glimpse of the face behind it all.


Mark said...

You're really lucky to play your instruments and from such a young age. I have always loved music, but as a child my parents never took my interest in music seriously.

Cody said...

Wow, this is a really great post, Aek. It really spoke to me somehow. I guess I tend to personify things too. Your thoughts on music and the way the notes present themselves, almost, really appealed to me. I'm not sure what I'm trying to say here, but keep up the great work. Very impressive.

Troystopher said...

The piano is my favorite instrument! I would melt if a guy played the piano just for me!

Aek said...

Mark: Yeah, I've been lucky in this respect I think. Music is great, I wish it wasn't one of the first things to go when schools are low on budget.

Cody: Thanks! I'm glad you're touched. Some things can't be put accurately into words, and music is one of them I think.

Troystopher: I would melt too if someone played the piano just for me. Now if they were also a good cook, well, I may just have to marry that person.

E said...

Ok, so I had no idea that the masks were links to real posts [which might have been obvious to others].

I'm really glad I was snooping around ur page. You summed it up for us. Especially with instruments personalities. There is something about playing a can convey EXACTLY what you're feeling. The instrument takes on a set of traits that we link [or personify] to human traits.

I have not been playing nearly as long as you. I BEGGED my parents for a piano for half of my childhood, but there aren't musical ppl and didn't understand my obsession. I didn't start playing until I found a piano during my freshman year in college. From the moment I sat down on the bench it was just right. I knew that it was right. I had played saxophone and some violin, but nothing compared to the sensation of hitting those keys. I still get excited when I see a piano. NO ONE believes that I started playing 3 1/2 years ago. It doesn't seem like enough time to advance far, but I have very good pitch and recall. I can hear it and play [except for "Dear Goodbye" by JC Chasez, which I love but can't play.]

P.S. I'm happy to know that I may be marriage material. Cause I can burn it DOWN! Anytime u in Ga I got u. LOL!
I enjoy playing guitar. I'm progressing very quickly [according to my roommate who is the shit on guitar].

Aek said...

E: Haha, there's a reason why my blog bears its title, and that's for these series of links.

I'm glad we think the same way (I think?) towards music and the piano. It's really impressive that you picked up the piano in less than 4 years, but part of that might be because you already know how to play other instruments and you know how to read music. So the learning curve is significantly blunted.

Haha, marriage material. Can you cook amazingly well too? :P

I've never tried to play the guitar. There was a time when I scorned the guitar because it seemed like everyone played it (like the violin), and there were so many people I knew who couldn't do anything particularly impressive or noteworthy on it. Though now, I may consider picking up the guitar if I had the time.