Marriage Between the Discursive and Contemplative

Music is a beautiful example of harmony, the coming together of realities with differences to create a new whole. Music gives us so many tangible examples of realities that exist in the world that it is very much a philosophical discipline. This is how music was viewed in the Middle Ages and it still holds true today.

When we practice music, whether we are aware of it or not, we are employing means of thinking that are also employed by people all over the world. I am thinking or discursive and contemplative thought. By “discursive”, I mean thinking in terms of analysis, gathering data, deconstructing and finding out about all of the parts of something. We often use this type of thought when we are working on technique or studying a new piece. By “contemplative” I mean the thought process that brings things together, sees them as a whole, simple beholds a truth or reality. We often do this when we are witness to a great artist’s painting or sculpture or hear a great musician in a live concert. We simply behold and enjoy. Everything has come together for that moment. I believe it is helpful to consider both discursive and contemplative thought, because the life of a musician requires both. It requires both discipline and spirit.

Discipline without spirit becomes moralistic, legalistic, and constraining. Spirit without discipline on the other hand can become unfocused, without purpose, and even destructive. However, when discipline and spirit come together, they offer freedom, direction, balance, and even joy. This is the harmony, the marriage between two different realities. In life we want to attain this harmony. We want to live with self control, taking care of our responsibilities. At the same time we want to live with spirit, enjoying our life, contemplating its beauties and beholding its mysteries. When we bring these together, we have balance.

Using the example of studying a piece of music, we contemplate a new piece when we hear it for the first time. We then begin the journey of study, discursive thought, patiently looking at all of the details within the composition, considering what the composer is communicating, and what techniques we will employ to convey his or her message. We then begin to interpret, experimenting with phrasing, color, and emotional expression. And so we contemplate the beauty of the music and everything comes together within our interpretation. This experience we often share with others in performance. The whole process can take some time, so we seek patience. It is important during this process for the musician to give time to both technique and spirit so as to play with quality and also with joy and freedom.

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