Essays on Music

TABLE OF CONTENTS

WHAT IS MUSIC?   5/22/19
SPIRITUALS & GOSPEL
 EXPLAINED 
by Nick Page 4/17/14
TEN ASPECTS OF JEWISH MUSIC I WISH I HAD KNOWN 40 YEARS AGO by Nick Page 7/22/15
SO MUCH MORE   Nick Page’s Keynote Address for the 2018 FAME conference 7/21/18
SHAPENOTE SINGING AT BREAD & PUPPET by Nick Page 6/12/14
BENEFITS OF MUSIC   by Nick Page 4/12
COMPOSING FROM A CULTURAL PERSPECTIVE by Nick Page 1995
STANDARDS OF EXCELLENCE by Nick Page 1997

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WHAT IS MUSIC? by Nick Page    May 22, 2019

Music Is The Conscious Reunion Of Resonance And Time.

I am the son of a scientific father and a creative mother.  My father, Bill Page, was very much in his mind and my mother, Janet Fish Page, very much in her heart.   They are both in me so any explanations I make must satisfy both my mind and heart. I believe there must be scientific explanations for things we do not yet understand.   Finding scientific rationales for beliefs of the heart is a challenge, one I inherited from my parents, it’s in my genes.  My father stenciled the words WHAT WHERE WHO WHEN HOW WHY on the walls of our home.  I was raised to ask questions.  So here is my question:  What is music?

It is a common misconception that to understand music one must study melody, harmony, rhythm, form and all the elements of music theory.  But these are actually the least important aspects of music.  A painter uses palettes to choose and mix colors. A composer has five palettes.

1)   THE PHYSICAL PALETTE: How the created sound effects the body and the mind.
2)   THE EMOTIONAL PALETTE: How the sounds effect our hearts.
3)   THE CULTURAL & HISTORICAL PALETTE: Whether they know it or not, all composers choose from a cultural or historical palette, a style they are comfortable composing in.  The differences between a Bach chorale and a Gospel song are more cultural and historical than they are musical.
4)   THE SPIRITUAL PALETTE: Every faith has a paradigm that shapes the creative process. A composer who believes in a hierarchal God is going to compose differently than a composer who believes that we walk in beauty as the Navahos say (to walk in beauty is to walk in the living circle of all things).  Both paradigms will create beautiful sacred music, but they will be very different.
5)   THE MUSICAL PALETTE: The shaping of sound.  Form, for example, is the order of repetition.

E=MC2  Energy Equals Music Times Consciousness Squared.  My equation only works if consciousness includes the emotions.

Scientists like Richard Dawkins, author of THE GOD DELUSION, believe that consciousness is confined to the brain and that emotions are merely chemical reactions within the brain.  Yes, chemicals are emitted with emotions, but I believe that there is much more going on.

St. Paul defined faith as a belief in things unseen.  He was speaking of God, but one can apply it to consciousness and the emotions.

The whole history of science finds scientists disbelieving one unseen thing after another.  They did not believe Newton’s ideas on gravity because they could not see gravitational waves.  They did not believe in electromagnetic forces because they could not see them. The same is true of strong and weak nuclear forces, radio waves, not to mention germs and the whole micro living world.

Scientists like Rupert Sheldrake, author of THE SCIENCE DELUSION, believe that the study of consciousness is the next great step in scientific discovery.  He speaks of Morphic Resonance, a theory explaining consciousness not confined to the brain.

E=MC2  Energy Equals Music Times Consciousness Squared.   The squared part of this equation is the phenomenon that happens when many minds form in community.  Singing in a chorus is just one of countless examples of people joining their minds and hearts together to feel, to be fully alive.  And singing has the added benefit of being a compassionate act, an act of giving.  But there is so much more.

My definition of music uses loaded words, words that take on new meaning when looked at in new perspectives.

MUSIC IS THE CONSCIOUS REUNION OF RESONANCE AND TIME.

Before I explain my definition of music, here are several new paradigm concepts that have shaped my thinking:

  • INFORMATION: Information is anything that is “in formation.”  The term originated with computer scientists sequencing zeros and ones to create our digital universe,  The order of those zeros and ones create digital information.  A DNA molecule is complex molecules in formation. DNA is information.  Likewise, computer chips, cities, highways systems, symphonies, trees are all in formation and are all information.
  • INFORMATION DENSITY: The second law of thermodynamics dictates that energy dissipates as it spreads further from its source.  This is called entropy.  But information has the tendency to do the opposite, to form ever more complex formations, more dense and more complex.    The universe was pure energy exploding from a central unknown source. But the energy did not simply continue to dissipate.  The energy formed itself into suns and planets.  So far as we know, life began when complex molecules formed increasingly complex formations becoming DNA.  More and more dense formations evolved with cells and eventually life forms.  People gathering together to sing in a chorus is an example of information density.  Even the sound created is made up of  a complex collection of interconnected resonances.
  • SELF-ORGANIZED SYSTEMS: Deists and theists believe that a supernatural being dictates all actions or at least sets all actions into motion.  But the direction water takes in swirling down the drain is dictated by gravity and the spinning of the planet.  It is a self-organized event.   Resonance self-organizes to form a major chord.  A major chord is based on pure ratios of ½, 1/3, ¼, and 1/5th.    You can test this on a guitar by lightly touching the string at those ratio points. Plucking the string will reveal the notes of a major chord.  Brian Swimme poetically explains self-organized systems when he says, “If you leave hydrogen alone for a long enough period of time, it will create great symphonies.”
  • CREATIVE UNFOLDING: Self-organized systems evolve when it is their time to evolve.  Planets and stars evolved simultaneously throughout the universe.  The first city states evolved simultaneously in Ancient China, South America, West Africa, Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and Indonesia.  The first written languages evolved simultaneously.  Scientific discoveries and inventions happened when the world was ready for them to happen.  This creative unfolding is manifested in social and political movements from the unfolding of the Italian Renaissance to the rise of human rights movements.  The coming together of John, Paul, George and Ringo was part of the creative unfolding of the universe just as was the evolution of jazz, rock, hip hop and other musical genres.  Everything comes to be when it’s time for it to evolve.  People have a misconception of what creativity is.  They think it simply means making things up out of thin air. But creativity is an unfolding of preexisting ideas.  The nature of creativity within the universe is not really one of invention, but variation, a creative unfolding.

As Brian Swimme discusses in his book THE UNIVERSE IS A GREEN DRAGON, creativity is central to the habits of the Universe (He prefers the term “habits” to the terms “rules” or “laws”). The spinning electrons at the Fermi Lab behave in unpredictable ways, a form of creativity.  In evolutionary science the old thinking was called “the survival of the fittest,” but survival is actually more determined by a species ability to change and adapt, by its’ level of creativity.

The architect Frank Lloyd Wright employed a form of creative unfolding. In his concept of organic design, every part of his designs had to be “of the thing, not on the thing.”  Much as a composer would compose a melodic theme, Wright would use one or two basic ideas.  Every aspect of his design would unfold from that idea.  The Guggenheim Museum in New York City, for example, has two motifs, the spiral and the rectangle.  The music of Beethoven was a great inspiration for Wright.  We can hear no better example of creative unfolding than the opening movement of Beethoven’s 5thsymphony.  The dramatic four note motif is heard over and over in a thousand variations, his creativity unfolding much the same as a child in a sandbox; repetition, sequence, variation, and contrast. Genius at play.

  • NON-ZERO SUM: In zero-sum systems, forces compete and eventually nullify each other. With non-zero sum systems, on the other hand, there is the constant give and take between competition and altruism but with altruism being the stronger force.  Life is a non-zero sum system.  Life began with single cell organisms and eventually the vast web of life evolved.  There is a force of compassion within the non-zero sum formula.  Behaviorists like E. O. Wilson speak of traits like reciprocal altruism where life forms help other life forms and by doing so, they themselves are rewarded.  Singing in a chorus is a non-zero sum experience, an act of compassion.
  • THE PATTERN THAT CONNECTS: Gregory Bateson (husband of Margaret Mead) was a biologist who looked for “the pattern that connects.” In his book MIND AND NATURE, he asks, “What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all four of them to you and me? And me to you?  And all six of us to the amoeba.”  pg. 8  He goes on to say, “The anatomy of the crab is repetitive and rhythmical.  It is, like music, repetitive with modulation.” pg. 11  One can see that the pattern in a maple leaf is the same pattern in the tree itself.  The pattern connects the two as one living self-organized system.  Throughout my thoughts I love comparing scientific ideas to a chorus.  When we sing in a chorus, we behave like the universe.  The patterns in the universe are manifested in the patterns of our harmonies, expressions, rhythms,  musical cultures, and shared consciousness.
  • INTERDEPENDENCE: All these self-organized non-zero sum patterns are connected and part of the same action.  Scientists can remove one strand of DNA from a frog and create a whole new frog.  All the information for creating that frog is part of the interconnectedness of the DNA.  Life abounds with interdependence.  Every part of our bodies is effected by every other part as well as by what we eat and by what we do.  When we create conscious resonance as a group (sing in a chorus), we are an interdependent gathering of souls, a community of sound.  Our emotions sync creating fire.  The jazz spirit is a spirit of minds becoming interdependent and interconnected, thinking like a flock of birds, one mind.
  • GOD IS A VERB, NOT A NOUN: Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome, wrote that phrase in his epic poem NO MORE SECOND HAND GOD.  Our hands are atoms in the act of being hands.  A music stand is atoms in the act of being a music stand.  Yes, the word “hand” is a noun, but by calling it a verb as well, it changes everything. The fact that atoms, spinning electrons, are the basis of matter means that everything is an action.   This is a huge paradigm shift.  I love giving things the verb test.  Does a thing have spinning atoms that make it an action that exists?  If it does, then it is a verb.  If it is does not, then it is a noun only, a concept.  Using my definition, we can see that most things are both nouns and verbs. My verb test can show that death, on the other hand, is a noun only and not a verb.  Death exists only as a concept.  We cannot actually be dead.
  • LIFE IS ETERNAL: Life, seen in its’ plurality, is eternal.  New life arises from seeds, eggs, spermatozoa, but at no point do these life forms begin living since they were already alive.  The life that is in us has been alive since the beginning of life.  Therefore we, and all living things, are eternal.  This is a scientific reality.  It astounds me that I am the only one I have ever heard stating this obvious fact.
  • LIVING SYSTEMS: The Gaia Hypothesis states that the Earth is a living system, a single cell.  There have been several catastrophic events in the Earth’s evolution, times when, due to an asteroid or volcanic ash, almost all life was wiped out. Each time, it was bacteria that brought back the balance.  Bacteria create oxygen.  Bacteria self-organized to create just the perfect balance of oxygen in our atmosphere; one percent less and we’d suffocate; one percent more and we’d burn up. A chorus is a living system, an interdependent self-organized non-zero sum complex formation of hearts and souls. But there’s always more: The universe evolved from energy becoming matter, matter becoming life, and life becoming consciousness.  Briane Swimme says, “We are stars become aware.”(paraphrase)  But what if the Universe was a living system all along?  What if the Universe was a conscious event all along?

In the movie LITTLE BIG MAN (my favorite movie), Little Big Man’s adopted grandfather Chief Lodge Skins explains the difference between how Native Americans and the white settlers think. He refers to his own people as the human beings.

 “. . . Because the human being, my son, they believe everything is alive, not only man and animals, but also water, earth, stone, but also the things from them . . . But the white man, they believe everything is dead, stone, earth, animals and people, even their own people.  If things keep trying to live, white man will rub them out.  That is the difference.”
            from LITTLE BIG MAN

For me, seeing all things as a verb is akin to seeing everything as being alive, a living system.

MUSIC IS THE CONSCIOUS REUNION OF RESONANCE AND TIME.

NADHA BRAMHA, THE WORLD IS MADE OF SOUND: At the core of the atom is resonance.  Resonance is sound.  All things are made of resonance and so, metaphorically, the world is made of sound. This resonance seeks harmony.  The oxygen molecule finds harmony by forming with hydrogen to create water.  I asked a physicist once about the inherit disharmony of the universe.  I asked what would happen if every atom and molecule in the universe suddenly formed the perfect harmony.  He said that the resonance would stop and the universe would simply cease to be.

I took a workshop with a physicist named Beverly Rubrick, a thinker who has pushed the boundaries of science in her theories.  She led us in a guided meditation where I found myself hurtling through space.  Her words disappeared as stars and solar systems sped by, becoming blurs.  Suddenly I was in complete darkness.  I had gone beyond where the light of the universe had travelled.  My first thought was that there was nothing there, a void. But the second thought shook me. I realized that this void was the same void in which my known world existed and that the only difference was that my known world had resonance, energy, matter.   The universe may actually be the opposite of infinite.  It might actually be a void, a void filled will resonance giving shape to atoms, planets and the vast verb of Creation.

When the photons of the sun reach our bodies, they do not bounce off. We absorb the light just as trees absorb the light, transforming the energy into oxygen.  Likewise, when sound reaches our bodies, we absorb it. Our bodies are a living resonance. The Eastern practice of chakras is based on understanding the resonance within our bodies.   If we tone a low Uh vowel, we will feel the resonance in our groin area.  Toning a low Oh vowel will cause our belly area to resonate.  The Ah vowel on a higher pitch resonates in the heart chakra.  Toning Eh on an even higher pitch resonates in the neck area and a high Ee vowel, for me at least, is like a rocket taking off from my brain, a huge volcano of energy exploding upward.

When we make music together, we receive a full range of these chakra tones, the Ahs, Ohs, Oos, Ees that make up musical timbres.   And we receive a full range of pitches from low to high.  Many sound healers believe that we need a full range of high and low pitches in order to be healthy.  They theorize that the reason men evolved to have lower pitched voices was so that our singing could encompass a full spectrum of resonance.

Do you let the light in?  Do you let the light out?
Do you shine?  Really shine?
Do you dance with the light?
Does the light dance with you?
Do you shine?  Really shine?
     by Nick Page

My little children’s song, DO YOU SHINE, asks, “Do you let the light in?”, but it’s asking so much more. The word “light” can mean the photons of the sun, but it can also mean the light of love or the light of God. Do we selfishly keep it in or is our reaction the same as every other physical verb in the universe, to let it out? How alive are we?  Do we experience the fullness of  Creation firsthand ?  Do we shine?

There are four ways that we receive resonance.  The first, as I have said, is in the body itself, feeling it in our skin, muscles and organs.  The second and third way we receive resonance is through hearing, both inner and outer. The outer ear hears sounds created outside our bodies.  The inner ear hears internal sound, primarily our own voices.  When people hear recordings of themselves for the first time, they react that it doesn’t sound like them.   They are only hearing half of what their ears normally hear.  They are not hearing the sound that reaches their inner ears through bone conduction, inner hearing.

The fourth way we receive resonance, and this is my unproven theory, is through the resonance of consciousness itself.   This brings us back to Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance, the idea that consciousness has a resonance.  He leads a global test on dogs where a video camera is aimed at the inside entrance to a home.  The owners will return home, always from different directions, always at different times of the day.  The dogs in the tests come to the door when the owners are still a five minute drive away.  Yes, dogs have heightened hearing and far more sophisticated senses of smell, but he theorizes that the dogs sense the conscious waves of their owner.

I return again to the words of St. Paul who defined faith as a belief in things unseen.  Rupert Sheldrake is trying to prove that the unseen forces of consciousness and emotions can be scientifically proven.  Anyone who has ever felt a love for a dog  feels a powerful bond.  Similarly a mother feels the love of their baby in her arms. And the baby feels the mothers love. When parents fight in a room far from their sleeping baby, the baby can feel those waves of emotions and begins to cry.  I do a test when I’m on an airplane or in a hotel room.  If there is a baby crying I hold up my palm and send love to the child.  I know I’m insane for making this claim, but the babies stop crying within seconds. Ysaye Barnwell was a guest of the Mystic Chorale.  During the concert a baby in the audience began to cry.  Ysaye stopped for a moment and said, “I love babies.”  The baby stopped crying, feeling the love.  They don’t call them “Good Vibes” for nothing.

We are born with no wall to keep out the emotions.  Babies feel everything.  Over time, our cultures condition us build walls that prevent ourselves from both feeling and expressing emotions.   Emotions can be overwhelming.  The walls we build are our survival mechanisms as dictated by our cultures (not all cultures repress emotions).   My friend Todd Emmons sings in JOYFUL NOISE, a New Jersey chorus of singers with disabilities, both physical and intellectual.  Todd is developmentally delayed but I have learned that I am the one with the disability.  I feel only a fraction of what he feels.  He has no walls.  I wrote a song for him.  He cries every time he sings it.  He cannot NOT cry.  He cannot turn off his emotions.

You have a heart.  Use it.  You have a heart.  Let it out.
Let your heart dance, Let your heart, sing, Let your heart love.
You have to shine with all your might,
You have to shine with all your light,
You have to shine with your love.
    YOU HAVE A HEART by Nick Page (published by Hal Leonard)

My father was a confirmed intellectual for most of his life.  As dementia set in in his final years, the emotional walls began to come down. A huge, even infinite, heart was revealed.  He did not know what to do with a fork, but he had a huge emotional connection to the old songs, remembering every word.  The songs were in his heart, not his mind.

The brain doesn’t matter, just endless patter.
We forget almost all that we know,
But the heart is the singer, its melodies linger,
The songs are the last to go.
from ATTACK OF THE WINDMILLS by Nick Page

Our bodies and brains are also effected by the pulse within music.  This brings us the word “time” in my definition: Music Is The Conscious Reunion Of Resonance And Time.  A fast pulse will excite the mind and body, a slow pulse calm us.  Music calms the savage beast.  The scientific word for this is entrainment which can be defined as what happens when one pulse imitates another.  When a car mechanic tunes an engine they change the speed of the vibrating cylinders, a shaking noisy machine turns into an efficient humming engine with the simple tuning of these valves.  They are matching the number of vibrations per second.  If you listen to someone tune a piano you will hear the same thing.  The out-of-tune string makes a shaky wah-wah sound which disappears by making it match the number of vibrations of the other strings.  People walking together entrain their pulses to each other.  Audiences breathe in unison to the music.  Tibetan prayer bells are tuned almost identically. They are just out of tune enough to cause a wah-wah beat of about 8 cycles per second.  This is the same pulse as the brain waves during times of rest. The prayer bells relax us because we entrain to their pulse.

Composers use pulse the same way great public speakers use pulse; to excite us, to calm us, to wake us.  They are playing with time and our perception of time.  There is only now, but the pulse of this now effects us in profound ways.

Time is relative.  We have times when we can get a days work done in under and hour and other times when the work drags on and on.   Whales live over a hundred years while mice live less than two, but they have the same number of heart beats per lifetimes.  So in relative terms, they both live the same amount of time, the whale just lives it slower.  If you take recordings of whales singing and greatly speed them up, they sound like birds.

Here is a video that demonstrates the phenomenon of speeding up whale songs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5OCCuCIMbA

Here is another video of the sound of the crickets slowed down to reveal a self-organize consciously created harmonic progression in three part harmony. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHOVGRZu_3k&feature=youtu.be

These demonstrate that, as my song says, there’s so much more going on.  (See SO MUCH MORE below).

 “We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality.”
      Alan Watts

I  was with friends on a rocky island as the sun was going down. I said to the woman next to me, “This is going to be a beautiful sunset.”  She turned to me and said, “Nick, this IS a beautiful sunset.”  She was gently reminding me to be in the present. To my father, in his final years of dementia, there was no concept of past or future, only now, but his now was vast, bigger than all illusions of past or future, an Eternal Now.

 “I opened my eyes when I was born to discover the light.
I opened my mouth when I was born to discover my voice.
And the light and the voice will always be new
And the voice of the light will always be true.”
from ATTACK OF THE WINDMILLS by Nick Page

The challenge for me as a conductor of choruses is to make NOW constantly new.  It is so easy for us to live in auto-pilot, not really present, not really aware.  I can test singers awareness levels by asking them to repeat phrases back to me.  If their repetition is a blurred version of what I asked them to repeat, then they are not fully present, not fully in the now. But, as always, there’s so much more. How conscious are we of breath, of vibration in our bodies, on how the resonance of those around us are effecting us? How conscious are we of the meaning of the words and the expressions of our hearts?  The title of Buckminster Fuller’s epic poem is NO MORE SECOND HAND GOD. Is the NOW we experience first hand or is it second hand?

To experience a first-hand God is to walk in the forest surrounded by the resonance of trees, receiving the energy of the sun, a constant reunion of sensations.  To experience a second-hand God, on the other hand, is to watch a TV show about someone walking in the forest.  The second-hand God is a God of illusions. We struggle with these illusions, constantly asking what is real and what is fake?  What is true and what is a lie?

In the book of Genesis 32:28, Jacob is given the name Israel by a man with whom he has wrestled, a man he learns to be God.

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

The name Israel means “Struggles With God.”  In our days of media illusion, we all struggle with a second-hand God.   We can choose to hide behind the illusion or to live in each moment, in the radiance of what this living self-organized interdependent Universe gives us.

As a musician, I choose to let my heart sing, experiencing a first-hand God.  My chorus is called the Mystic Chorale.  A mystic, whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish or other, feels the presence of Spirit at all times.

I was trained to teach good vowels to my singers, but I have learned to teach good emotions instead. Ellen Dissanayake is a behavioral scientist who has developed unique perspectives on the evolution of human behavior, focusing on our creative expression, both visually and musically.  The first known art was carved stones buried with the dead. These stones had meaning to the early humans.  She calls this “making special,” the idea that the objects we create can be more than what they are.  The first sounds our voices made were the expression of emotions from the gentle Ah of a mother’s love to the frantic cries of fear or rage.   In a scientific field dominated by men, Ellen Dissanayake’s womans’ perspective is very welcome.  She says that singing evolved as a mother/child dialogue.  These emotions, expressed through vowels, were sung from mother to child, eventually taking on meaning, language.  She points out that these vowels are universal.  Every mother, regardless of their culture, expresses her love for her child through gentle Ah and Oh vowels.  The Oo vowel expresses the same sense of wonder in every language of the world.

As I said earlier, we build walls around our hearts.  As a song leader, my biggest challenge is to tear down the walls that prevents people from both feeling and expressing themselves.  I will work with middle school singers and there will always be a bunch of them, usually boys, who sit like statues refusing to sing.  I will find two or three of them that have some hint of life in them and bring them to the front.  I will get them moving to an infectious beat.  I will have the rest of the students mirror what these boys are doing. Soon the emotional walls begin to come down.  My “volunteers” give permission for the rest of the students to let the light in and let the light out.  I cannot do that.  It has to be one of their peers.

Barry Green took his book THE INNER GAME OF TENNIS and turned it into a fascinating book on music, THE INNER GAME OF MUSIC.  He points out that we are far more heart centered than we are brain centered.  If I am teaching the Shaker song SIMPLE GIFTS, I might use his techniques.  On the phrase, “Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free,” I do not say, “I want a gradual crescendo leading up to the second time we sing gift and then I was a forzando.”  Instead, I create an image as a guide; “Imagine an angel slowly flying toward you and gently lifting you off the ground on the final gift.”  The first explanation was in the head, while the second was in the heart.  I ask singers in my choruses to memorize their music so that there are no walls between their hearts and the audience.

I once asked for a soloist to sing Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender” in rehearsal.  He sang the words, but made them sound like driving directions, devoid of emotion.  I explained that the first word, Love, has a gorgeous Ah vowel in it.  Sing Ah as if you were flirting with everyone in the room, reach out to them with your heart, with every emotion of every vowel of every word.  He sang it again and everyone screamed with delight.

As my song, THE SONGS ARE THE LAST TO GO says, the heart is the singer.  Years ago I taught middle school music.  The students were learning about the Holocaust in history class so I taught them some songs from that time of horror.  The teachers invited parents and grandparents to a presentation of stories and songs, but there was something missing.  This changed when an older woman, a grandmother of one of the students, told of taking a train trip in her native Poland when she was a child.  She remembers singing a song similar to the one the middle school students had just sung.  She remembers that her aunt and brothers and sisters and parents were there and she remembers being very happy.  And then she said to the students, “And that was the last time I ever saw them.”  Up until that moment the students understood the songs and stories of the Holocaust in their minds, but they hadn’t understood them in their hearts.  There were tears, including mine.

People come up to me after performances and say, “I was so moved, I almost cried.”  The first thing I think is, “You should have cried. What’s stopping you?”

In the summer of 2002 I took my chorus, the Mystic Chorale, to Germany.  In the United States at the time, the media was buying into the hysteria over Iraq, creating hate, fear and revenge in preparation for the war.  The night before we were to perform at an old synagogue in Hechingen, Germany, I had a nightmare.  I was attacked by children.  They stuck fishhooks in my hand.  They did what we do when we are taught hate, fear and revenge; they acted out in violence.  They were drowning a policeman and I came to his rescue.  He too had fishhooks in his hands.  I remember the faces of the children, two Germanic looking boys, a black boy, a Mediterranean looking girl and boy.

The performance that night in the synagogue was the most powerful performance of my life.  The synagogue had been destroyed on Kristallnacht by the fascists but rebuilt by local Lutherans in the 1970’s as act of healing, as a way of not denying the sins of the fathers.  We met a survivor who had been moved to England as a child, but who had returned.  We met a man named Adolph who had been born in the last years of the war.  He had kept his name to honor his parents, but he had lived his life as a parable of goodness, spearheading the rebuilding of the synagogue.

Our songs took on special meaning, multiplied in every sense.  We sang an old Spiritual, “The sun will never go down. The flowers are blooming forever, the sun will never go down.”  Our tears flowed.  Near the end, I brought up some children to play hand percussion on an upbeat song and there they were, the children from my dream the night before, two Germanic looking boys, a black boy, a Mediterranean looking girl and boy.   And they were smiling and playing along joyfully.

In that moment I made a life choice.  As the United States prepared itself for war, I realized we have choices in this life. We can teach love or we can teach hate. I chose to forever teach love.

In his 2009 book EMPIRE OF ILLUSION, THE END OF LITERACY AND THE TRIUMPH OF SPECTACLE, Chris Hedges concludes with thoughts of love.

“No tyranny in history has crushed the human capacity for love.  And this love – unorganized, irrational, often propelling us to carry out acts of compassion that jeopardize our existence – is deeply subversive to those in power.  Love, which appears in small, blind acts of kindness, manifested itself even in the horror of the Nazi death camps, in the killing fields of Cambodia, in the Soviet gulags, and in the genocide of the Balkans and Rwanda. . . . The power of love is greater than the power of death.  It cannot be controlled . . . It is about honoring the sacred.  And power elites have for millennia tried and failed to crush the force of love.  Blind and dumb, indifferent to the siren calls of celebrity, unable to bow before illusions, defying the lust of power, love constantly rises up to remind a wayward society of what is real and what is illusion.   Love will endure, even if it appears darkness has swallowed us all, to triumph over the wreckage that remains.”

Music Is The Conscious Reunion Of Resonance And Time.

To consciously create sound is to express our full range of emotions as an act of compassion.  In our non-zero sum universe, compassion is a building block.  And as always, there is so much more.

 “The universe evolved for billions of years to create the child and the voice of the child became the unlimited expression of the universe.”
    Brian Swimme

To paraphrase Brian Swimme, “We are the stars made aware.”  Our conscious expression of sound is the conscious song of the Universe itself.

When we wake up to the dream we see a world beyond belief
We see the wonder of a child, unfolding wisdom in a leaf.
We see the vastness of Creation, in each moment made anew,
We see the vastness of each moment, The smallness will not do.
from ATTACK OF THE WINDMILLS by Nick Page

In his years of dementia I would take my father for drives in the countryside.  One day we stopped by a field of flowers on a sunny day.  I asked him what the flowers were telling him. He thought for a minute and finally said, “Shine.”  This naturally brought out a song in me.

SO MUCH MORE

The flowers’ simple message,
Shine just like the sun,
Give back the light,
the love that you receive.
And so it is with music,
Songs are like the sun,
We sing because
there’s so much light within.
So sing out with your soul
and sing out with your light,
There’s so much more than music going on.

This song, SO MUCH MORE, is in my musical, sung by a woman who is a flower beginning to blossom.  Her song continues:

I often sing of things unseen
of spirit fire, of love supreme
Is it air? Or is is prayer?
If you cannot see it, is it there?
I’ve lacked the faith in things profound,
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
Those doubts are gone, my voice is strong,
I’m not the singer, I’m the song.
There’s so much more than what we see,
So much more than what we know,
So much more than me going on.

The resonance of sound changes us, but the resonance of hearts transform us. We become so much more.  A song is so much more than a song.  It is the stars crying out.  It is the sound of every mother comforting her child.

Before my ashes flow to the sea,
I will sing with the waters,
dance with the sky,
For everywhere there is life, there is music,
Where there is music, there is life.
The song never ends just as life never really ends.
    from BEFORE MY ASHES by Nick Page

The final word of our music definition is “reunion.”  Scientists love to remind us that there are as many molecules of water in a cup of water as there are cups of water in the ocean.  In each cup are molecules of water that have been everywhere on this planet, in clouds, in glaciers, in every conceivable life form.  In every cup there is a molecule of water that passed through the body of Jesus or Buddha or the first mother of us all in the plains of Africa.  And this is true of the water that is in us.  Drinking water is a communion with the Universe, a reunion of atoms.

I understand what the brook is telling me.
It is singing a song both ancient and new,
the song of molecules
both mine and the brooks
reconnecting
a reunion of energy,
a communion of consciousness,
a unity of time and spirit.
from I UNDERSTAND WHAT THE BROOK IS TELLING ME by Nick Page

I love to swim.  When I am under water it is a reunion of the water in me and the water surrounding me.  We are all recycled water and carbon, “million year old stardust “as Joni Mitchell sang.   When I swim, I am returning.  This vast verb of Creation is constantly reshaping itself, eternal in its creativity and compassion, a constant reunion of atoms. And when we sing, it is a reunion of the resonance, a reliving of the song that is life.  It is an eternal song.

My life goes on in endless song;
Above Earth’s lamentations.
I hear the real though far off hymn
That hails the new Creation:
Above the tumult and the strife
I hear its music ringing;
It sounds an echo in my soul,
How can I keep from singing?
            Hymn by by Robert Lowry and Ira Sankey

We are musical beings, resonant beings, capable of great Magnificence.  We humans have created the interlocking wonder of West African classical drumming, the splendor of Bach’s B Minor Mass, the mystery and spiritual inspiration of a North Indian raga.  There is wonder in each sound we create.  There is so much more than music going on.

My father was fond of saying, “Imagine the sound of all humanity singing.”  It became my children’s choral work called IMAGINE THE SONG published by Boosey & Hawkes.

Imagine the sound of humanity singing,
Born of the heart, alive in song.
Through us, the stars sing their glory,
We are the song, the sound of humanity singing.
The creative flame (Ah Hah!)
That moment of pain (OUCH!)
The sound of wonder (Awe)
Of fright in the night (Eeee)
The healing prayer
A call for peace.

And we must never forget what slam poet Regie Gibson tells us, “We won the lottery.  We’ve been given the gift of life.”

I end with two quotes forcefully reminding us of this gift.

“By discovering precisely how music is created and appreciated in different social and cultural contexts, and perhaps establishing that musicality is a universal, species-specific characteristic, we can show that human beings are even more remarkable than we presently believe them to be – and not just a few human beings, but all human beings – and that the majority of us live far below our potential, because of the oppressive nature of most societies.”  p 116
from HOW MUSICAL IS MAN? by John Blacking, 1973.

“Our Republic teases us with the possibility of Democracy, but citizens are raised like military apple-orchards, pruned down to their predictable minimums, yielding controlled fruits that lack the ecstasy of nature.”
from THE ECSTASY OF NATURE  by Peter Schumann 2009

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SPIRITUALS & GOSPEL EXPLAINED by Nick Page 4/17/14

Singing both Spirituals and Gospel music requires humility. This is not music for showing off nor is it performance. Communities come together with a shared purpose, to shout their praise of God, to be lifted.   In addition to keeping it humble, one must always honor the stories behind the music. When we change the words to fit our personal beliefs, we are not honoring the stories nor are we being humble. The messages of the songs may be universal, but the history is not.

THE AFRICAN AMERICAN SPIRITUAL
According to musicians like Ysaye Barnwell, formerly of the group Sweet Honey in the Rock, Spirituals are freedom songs, freedom songs that rose from bondage. Lyrics like “Comin’ for to carry me home,” spoke of a better life to come in the Heavenly Kingdom, but they were also messages of freedom.

The Spirituals were a rural tradition, sung a cappella.   Although there are many songs about Jesus and Mary, the majority of the Spirituals are drawn from the Old Testament particularly songs of liberation like “Go Down Moses” (Let my people go). The form often consisted of the first line repeating as in “We are climbing Jacob’s Ladder.”

It is sometimes said that the Spirituals are the sacred cousin to the blues.   They share a similar form and made their origins in rural settings before the mass movement to the cities after the Civil War.

After emancipation a conscious decision was made to preserve these songs. Groups like The Fiske Jubilee Singers brought the Spirituals to the concerts halls of the North and Europe.   Spiritual collections began to be published.   The world found that these songs equaled and often surpassed the classical songs in their beauty, message, and emotional power.

Most of the Spirituals we sing today are arranged, written down so that there are no significant changes from one performance to the next. The arrangements of Jester Hairston, John Work, and Moses Hogan are particularly powerful. Until the 1980’s groups like the Georgia Sea Island Singers sang the Spirituals in the old style, highly heterophonic with great improvisation – never the same way twice.   Contemporary groups like Sweet Honey In The Rock draw from that texture.

The Spirituals have evolved to become universal messages of hope, but we must never forget their origins and we must always honor their stories.

THE APPALACHIAN SPIRITUAL
Songs like “Bright Morning Stars” are Appalachian Spirituals that have similar forms to African American Spirituals, the repetition of the first phrase. Like the African American Spiritual, these were rural songs usually sung a cappella.

THE AFRICAN AMERICAN HYMN
Songs like “There is More Love Somewhere” are considered to be African American hymns.   They are often the same words, but with one word that is replaced for each verse as in “There is more peace somewhere.”

THE GOSPEL SONG
The Gospel song is different from Gospel music.   The form evolved after the Civil War.   Up until then, the music in the white and many black churches were hymns.   A hymn like “Amazing Grace” is the same melody for each verse.   The new Gospel songs like “Shall We Gather At The River” borrowed the forms from both popular songs of the day (Stephen Foster) and from Spirituals.   So you have different verses with the same Chorus or refrain repeating each time.   In his day, Martin Luther (1509) brought the popular songs from the German beer halls into the church, so the tradition of bringing popular song forms into the church is quite old. Throughout the 20th century both black and white churches continued to use the Gospel Song form with Charles Albert Tindley, a black preacher in Philadelphia, writing songs like “We’ll Understand it Better By and By,” and the Carter Family singing songs like “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

BLACK GOSPEL MUSIC
Beginning with Thomas Dorsey in Chicago (Precious Lord), Black Gospel evolved in urban churches.   They brought rhythms, forms and instruments from popular music into the urban church.   When asked why he would dirty sacred waters with secular sounds, Thomas Dorsey replied, “Why should the devil have all the fun?” Black Gospel can be seen as a sacred cousin to rhythm & blues. Many different styles emerged like the West Coast’s James Cleveland style. In the old time Gospel, the II chord is used to augment the I chord, the vi chord is used to augment the V chord, etc.   There are a variety of movements employed.   One cannot generalize, but the old time Baptist style generally uses a solid second & fourth beat while the Pentecostal style is often in double time.

The most important element of all Gospel music is that it celebrates the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As such, they most often focus on the New Testament.

THE GOSPEL QUARTET
A Gospel Quartet traditionally consists of four male singers (the quartet) and a lead singer, but they often used more singers.   The Golden Gate Quartet helped to popularize the sound and groups like The Five Blind Boys of Alabama continue to create exciting music today.   There is percussiveness to the singing with space between the notes.  White quartets like the Jordanaires used the sound adding a country feel, giving no credit to the origins.   Elvis Presley’s sound came from the Black Gospel Quartet tradition.

CONTEMPORARY GOSPEL
In the 60’s and 70’s Gospel artists like Edwin Hawkins (“O Happy Day”) & Walter Hawkins added new harmonies and forms. This continues today with artists like Richard Smallwood (“I Love the Lord” & “Total Praise”) and Kirk Franklin. Changes continue to evolve with styles from pop culture coming into the church like Stomp, Hip Hop, and highly choreographed movements.

COUNTRY WESTERN GOSPEL
Evolving from both the Quartet and Gospel song traditions, Country Western Gospel enjoys a huge following.   There is a lot of cross-fertilization with different Black Gospel styles as well as the praise song.

THE PRAISE SONG
Often called “Inspirational Music,” Praise Songs are Christian pop and rock songs. There is now a rich cross-fertilization between black and white churches with the praise song as the common link.

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TEN ASPECTS OF JEWISH MUSIC I WISH I HAD KNOWN 40 YEARS AGO by Nick Page 7/22/15

1) There are two main Hebrew pronunciations, Ashkenazic and Sephardic.   The Sephardic is widely used in North America. The differences are often subtle.   But with both, the accent of most (not all) Hebrew words is on the last syllable.   What we see in written music are transliterations of the Hebrew letters.   In Sephardic Hebrew, the vowels tend to be pronounced as in Latin, but with many exceptions particularly with the “O” vowel (sometimes “Oh” and sometimes “Awe”). Josh Jacobson co-created an excellent guide (with CD) to Hebrew pronunciation. See Hebrew Texts, Translations and Annotations of Choral Repertoirefrom earthsongs publishers.

2) Being Jewish does not necessarily mean being an expert on how to sing Hebrew.         In Hebrew it is correct to aspirate the “CH” sound on words like “Chaverim,” but many American Jewish choirs leave it out. When teaching Hebrew pronunciation, it is best not to say, “Here is how to pronounce it.”   Say, “Here is how we will pronounce it.”

3) The name of G-d is only spoken by the High Rabbi once during the High Holidays in Israel.   For the rest of the year a euphemism is used.   But even that word, “Adonai”, is used only in worship.   Outside of worship, a euphemism for the euphemism is used, either “Adomai,” “Hashem (the Name)”, or “Adoshem.” Less observant Jews are more relaxed about these rules, but will honor the practice when in the company of more observant Jews.

4) The Chassidic Niggun (Nign). This wordless form of chanting is considered by Chassidic Jews to be the highest form of prayer.   It was popularized in the 60′s by the “Hippy” Rabbi Schlomo Carlebach and is receiving another revival because of Joey Weisenberg and others.

5) The folk and pop music of Israel is beloved by American Jews. Tara publishes many great Israeli song collections with songs by Naomi Shemer, Nurit Hirsch and many others.  Many of these songs like “Bashana” have a universal appeal (see the octavo “Bashana”).   We know “Bashana” as the lovely slow hymn, “Soon the Day,” but the original is a lively dance.

6) At first, American synagogues were unwelcoming to American inspirational singer/songwriters. But gradually the music of Debbie Friedman, Schlomo Carlebach, Danny Freelander and many others have become popular. Joshua Nelson has popularized a Gospel flavored Jewish music and Hip Hop and rock is used in alternative services intended on bringing in younger members.   Except for the language, many contemporary Jewish songs are indistinguishable from other pop songs and the idea that the song has to be in a minor mode in order to sound more Jewish is long gone. Music from outside the Jewish world is increasingly welcome, songs like Richard Smallwood’s TOTAL PRAISE.   All this depends, of course, on the congregation.

7) Like many mainline Christian churches, keeping young people involved is a challenge.   Many synagogues, like their church friends, have dwindling populations.   More traditional cantors are sometimes replaced with younger “song leaders” who know little of the intricacies of Jewish modality, but who know how to use the simpler songs to involve everyone in singing.

8) Like churches, contemporary Judaism is made up of many divisions in various forms of orthodoxy. The main divisions are the Ultra-Orthodox, the Orthodox, The Conservative, the Reform, and the Reconstructionist. Many of our Jewish friends consider themselves ethnically Jewish as opposed to practicing Jewish.

9) Songs like the round “Shalom Chaverim” are considered to be childrens songs, akin to “Twinkle Twinkle.” The same is true of the more popular Hanuka songs.

10) It is dangerous to assume that we can sing all Jewish music anywhere at anytime.   There is Jewish music that belongs only in sacred spaces at sacred times.   When in doubt ask a cantor for advice. Most will gladly give it.

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SO MUCH MORE   Nick Page’s Keynote Address for the 2018 FAME conference 7/21/18 in Chicago, IL, elementary and pre-school music teachers.

The address began with Nick leading his song DO YOU SHINE? Do You let the light in? Do you let the light out? Do you shine?   Really shine?

So that is my question today. Do we let the light in? Do we let the love in? Do we let the light and the love out? And more important, do we bring out the love and the light in others, in the joyous children we are blessed to work with?

I do not want to suggest, with my topic SO MUCH MORE, that we need to be doing more work. We are overworked as it is. I simply want to look at the bigger picture, that which connects our hearts to the Universe we live in.

One of the great thinkers of the 21st century, Buckminster Fuller, once said that every child was born a genius. I don’t think he ever actually worked with children. But he was right in saying that children are born with an innate brilliance, a sense of wonder. They are fully alive in both tears and in laughter. They let the light in and they let the light out. They cannot NOT let the light in. But as we get older, a wall starts to come down. The wall keeps the heart in and the wall keeps us safe so we don’t have to let that love out. And many of the people around us in this world live second hand lives, protected from the ecstasy that is CREATION. We are blessed and there is SO MUCH MORE going on than we realize. SO MUCH MORE.

Fuller wrote an epic poem called NO MORE SECOND HAND GOD challenging us to live our lives more fully – to be more alive, more creative, more compassionate, to stop living second hand lives in front of our TV sets. He wrote the book in the early 60’s at the same time Irish ethnomusicologist John Blacking was travelling the world to see how children learned music in the many cultures of the Earth. Blacking realized that for all of the children, music was a first hand experience. They learned music by making music. I was in elementary school in the 1950s and early 60’s. Our music class consisted of listening to records and watching filmstrips. Thank goodness brilliant music educators like Grace Nash picked up on John Blacking’s message and Buckminster Fuller’s message that the the learning of music required the creation of music, something creative and alive. Music had to be firsthand.

The resource list I provided lists some of the books on the evolution of music and singing. One prominent theory is that men needed stronger voices to attract stronger women, thus preserving the gene pool. Needless to say, most of these theorists are men. One woman, Ellen Disanayake, proposes another theory. She suggests that singing evolved as a mother/child dialogue.

 

At this point, Nick taught THE OLDEST SONG IN THE WORLD which is the sounds the first mother made while holding her child a hundred thousand years ago. It was Ah, the emotion of love. That was the first song. One can go anywhere on the planet and this most powerful of emotions is expressed with the same vowel. The sounds that come from our mouths all evolved from our expression of emotions.

My life was changed ten years ago by two events. My father, an MIT/Harvard trained scientist, slowly crept into dementia. And at the same time, I started working with a chorus in New Jersey called JOYFUL NOISE. They were adults with physical and intellectual disabilities, everything from severe autism, Downs Syndrome, developmentally delayed to Cerebral Palsy. But in working with them, I discovered that I was the one with the disability. My heart felt a fraction of what they felt. My heart expressed a fraction of what they let out with every joyful song. They sing at about a third grade level, but there is more heart than all the choirs of the world combined. Todd Emmons, a member of the chorus, is my soul brother. He is developmentally delayed. How many of us cry when we sing? Todd’s eyes swell with tears as he sings. I wrote a song for Todd, YOU HAVE A HEART, that has been published. The song is about what they taught me.

song: YOU HAVE A HEART by Nick Page (published by Boosey & Hawkes)
    You have a heart. Use it.
    You have a heart. Let it out.
    Let your heart dance,
    Let your heart sing,
    Let your heart love. 

    You have to shine with all your might,
    You have to shine with all your light,
    You have to shine with your love.

Most songs are tied to stories. These stories are tied to enormous emotions if we know how to make the stories come alive. My book SING AND SHINE ON is a guide to song leading. It has a chapter about stories.

My middle schoolers were studying the Holocaust in history class. I came in and taught them some songs from that horrible moment in history. They learned the songs in their heads, but not in their hearts. They were just songs, their full meaning had not reached them. At the end of their studies, parents and grandparents came in for a sharing presentation by the students. They sang one of the songs I had taught them. An older woman with a Polish accent stood up and said, “When I was a child, my family took a train trip. We sang that song on the train – my mother, my father, my brothers, my sister. And that was the last time I ever saw them.” End Quote.

 

In that moment, middle school boys began to cry. The melody had not changed them. The words had not changed them. It was the story that changed them. Heart knowing. Empathy.   SO MUCH MORE. Every song has a story, even a song like “Twinkle Twinkle.” Mozart sang it as a child two hundred and fifty years ago. It has been sung by generation after generation, parent to child, parent to child. It is a song of wonder, of enchantment.

My father once told me that emotions were nothing more than chemical reactions in the brain. I told him that was a stupid thing to say. He said, “That hurt my feelings.” I said, “Don’t worry, it’s only a chemical reaction.” As my father’s dementia grew, his emotions grew. He forgot the past – and the future did not exist, but his now was eternal. And we would sing. He did not know what to do with a fork, but if I started a song, he knew every word.

song: THE BRAIN DOESN’T MATTER by Nick Page
    The brain doesn’t matter, just endless patter,
    We forget almost all that we know
    But the heart is the singer, its’ melodies linger,
    The songs are the last to go.

     We sing what we know, we know what we sing,,
     We remember the songs in our hearts,
     And when we are old and memories fade,
     The songs are the last to go.

The heart is the singer. But there’s so much more. SO MUCH MORE. I carry with me my father’s belief that there are scientific explanations for everything. The whole history of science is about proving that invisible forces are real, invisible forces like gravity, electricity, light, the resonance of atoms. The next frontier for science will be the greatest invisible force of all, consciousness. I include the emotions as part of that consciousness.   St. Paul defined faith as a belief in THINGS UNSEEN. He was referring to God, but anyone who has ever held a child in their arms knows that there is an unseen force called love. I have witnessed song leaders and speakers who could calm a crying child simply inviting an audience to love the child. The child has no wall keeping the emotions out and is calmed by the love. When we sing with children, every song becomes a love song. There is so much more than music going on. SO MUCH MORE.

These emotions are in the realm of consciousness, unseen forces. E=MC2. Energy equals music times consciousness squared. SO MUCH MORE.

Our hearts know so much more than our brains. It’s called empathy, heart knowing. The heart is the singer. It’s time to fall in love.

LAUGHING BUDDHA RITUAL: This is a body prayer created by NP where participants pretend to fall in love with something, then in awe, then surprised by it, then they embrace it, then they share it. Each of these acts is accompanied by a vowel and a hand motion. The vowels are Ah (love), Awe (awe), Oh! (surprise), Oo (embrace) and Mm (share). Each vowel is added to last eventually creating Ah Awe Oh Oo Mm which is how the Buddhist Om is pronounced.

I have been fascinated lately by how we express our emotions through these basic vowels. I direct a community chorus in Boston. They are non-auditioned and most have no previous experience in singing. I no longer teach them to sing beautiful vowels and am now asking them to sing beautiful emotions. If they make a generic sound, it’s because they are singing a generic emotion. This is one of the reasons that singing with children is so satisfying. They sing beautiful emotions.

A scientist hears a child singing a song of wonder, each vowel ringing out with a sense of awe. Twinkle Twinkle little star . . . The scientist interrupts.

song: TWINKLE TWINKLE’S FOR THE BIRDS by Nick Page (sung to “Twinkle Twinkle”)
Great big burning mass of hydrogen
and other terrific energies,
How nice it is to know just what you are.
Way out in space is where you lie,
Not at all like a diamond in the sky,
Twinkle Twinkle’s for the birds,
Just a bunch of silly words.

and the child responds:
But without the twinkle the wonder is gone,
A world without wonder would be wrong.
Up above the sky so high,
Like a crystal in the sky,
It may be silly – - to sing of a little star,
But we need the wonder to know who—we—are.

When vowels are emotions, then melodies become emotions taking flight. SO MUCH MORE.

Sing a song like “Simple Gifts.” Become aware of every emotion coming from each vowel. It is SO MUCH MORE that a Shaker Hymn. It is every prayer.

I am a song leader. My BIGGEST challenge is ALWAYS to break down the wall. I have learned that I am powerless to make a group of middle schoolers feel and express themselves. I can yell SING! ‘til I’m blue in the face.

I have learned the key is in breaking down the hierarchy so the community of singers become the source of the emotional power. And just as important, I need to break down that emotional wall that prevents them from letting their emotions out, which is what singing is. When Craig, Chris and Robin helped out, they gave us permission to let it in and let it out. When I bring up a few middle schoolers and they truly let it out, they give permission for the rest of the students to join in, to tear down their walls. The power does not come from me. It comes from the community itself. There is a word for this. It is called DEMOCRACY. We must teach children that they have a voice and every voice can change the world. SO MUCH MORE.

And when I ask for emotions, I invite over the top emotions, operatic proportions. I will lead a workshop this afternoon, NARROWING THE RIVER, where we will create a spoken opera. It will explode with creativity and heart.

In Buckminster Fuller’s poem, NO MORE SECOND HAND GOD, he says that God is Verb, not a noun. This requires a paradigm shift where we begin to see all things as a verb. This podium is atoms in the act of being a podium. This podium is a verb. And this verb called life is unending. The egg and the sperm that made us were both alive, so we did not become alive at birth, nor conception. From a purely scientific perspective, life is eternal, an eternal verb.

Music is a verb. It is alive, constantly being created. We will never understand what music is if we think of it as a noun. Music educator Grace Nash understood this as she made the creation of music central to music education and with it, the expression of the heart.

In my afternoon workshop, I will talk more about creativity and how to bring out the creativity in ourselves and in others. The presentation is from a book I am writing called CREATING MUSIC, HOW NARROWING THE RIVER MAKES CREATIVITY FLOW. A wide river flows very slowly. If I ask children to write a song, I am creating a wide river. Nothing will be created. But if I give them the smallest of tasks like finding a rhyme for a word, the creativity will begin to flow. Or I cut out words and ask them to assemble them in a way that describes the sky. They can only use those words. Each child will create different lyrics because each child is unique. This is the beauty of creativity.

song: THE VOICE OF THE LIGHT by Nick Page
    We open our eyes when we are born to discover the light.
    We open our mouths when we are born to discover our voice.
    And the light and the voice will always be new
    And the voice of the light will always be true.

Creativity is not about the constant invention of new elements. Creativity is a form of recycling, the repetition of ideas with constant variation. Beethoven’s 5th.

Beethoven narrowed the river and the creativity flowed. The opening them of his 5th Symphony is the familiar four note theme. Beethoven does not invent a new theme. He lets the old theme repeat, but with changes only his mind and heart could imagine, an unfolding of a single idea. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright used Beethoven’s principles when designing a building. He would come up with one or two themes and let those themes unfold.

Scientists speak of the creation of the Universe as a CREATIVE UNFOLDING. At each stage of the history of the Universe, the next step happened when the Universe was ready, a natural progression, an unfolding. Fritjof Capra’s book of Conversations with great minds has a chapter on Creative Unfolding. On a side note, he discusses a new definition of the word “information.” In formation is anything that is “in formation.” That can be a city, a cell, a computer chip, a song.

Try singing a song like “Cockles and Mussells,” speeding up when it is happy and slowing down when it is sad. It is quite powerful and bring new meaning to the song.

Creativity needs to be part of what we do at all times. Children’s choirs fall into the bad habit of singing in auto-pilot where the song is the same every time. Shake it up. Never do it the same. I love teaching children to conduct Twinkle Twinkle. It is inspired by Paddy Malone, a traditional singer I met in Wexford, Ireland. He sang a song, speeding up and slowing down. I asked why he kept changing the tempo. He said, “A song is like a river. Sometimes it wants to move fast. Sometimes it wants to move slow. You can’t tell a song how fast to go.”

I bring up six students and have each conduct a phrase. I’ll narrow the river by saying to each of the six children, “Do you line fast like this,” or “Do your line loud like this.” Then we sing. For now, mirror my conducting gestures.

At this point, Nick conducted TWINKLE TWINKLE with everyone speeding up, slowing down, getting louder and softer on his cue.

This creative activity is one I suggest we do often. They will get good at both leading and following. It will astound you at how good it can get. SO MUCH MORE. It also reinforces democracy – letting their creativity, their voices, be heard.

Charles Darwin said that survival was NOT based on which species was the strongest or which species was the smartest. Survival was based on which species was most able to change. Which species was most creative? Creativity is nature’s greatest strength. Creativity is not about the geniuses of this world. Every time we carry on a conversation, we are being creative. And don’t tell me you aren’t creative. Anyone who can engage twenty-five 3 and 4 year olds for thirty minutes is a creative genius as far as I’m concerned.

Ursela K. LeGuin, author of “A Wrinkle In Time,” wrote, “The creative adult is the child who survived.”

SONG: MUSIC IS A WAY OF KNOWING from Nick Page’s SING WITH US Songbook
    1) Music is a way of knowing,
      With it we are always growing.
    2) Reading, writing, ‘rythmatic,
      Music helps these things to stick.
    3) Music helps us all to feel
      Keep the beat and keep it real.
    4) Music is a thing of beauty
      Pass it on, it is our duty.
CHORUS: Music, Makes us whole.
    Music, Fills our souls.

There is SO MUCH MORE to the simple act of echoing a song. So instead of (blah) sol mi mi sol with no emotion, add the emotion. We echo emotions as well as sound. Make it come alive. Echoing strengthens the ear. By being better listeners, we become better learners. With most adults, if we ask them to echo a simple phrase, they give back about 40% of the what we give them.   If they echo it wrong, it is because they hear it wrong. As Lois Choksy points out in her Kodaly books, we can only sing a pitch if we can hear the pitch.

There are some who argue that we should not worry about whether children sing in tune or not. The important thing, they say, is to get them singing. I agree that we need to excite them about singing, but they need to do it well. Every hearing child can learn to sing in tune. I know this from experience having taught Kindergarten for four years at a K-8 school.   As children reach adolescence, they stop singing if they can’t do it well. If you ask middle school boys to play basketball with the net forty feet in the air, they aren’t going to do well at it. Because they won’t do well, they will find no emotional satisfaction in doing it. It all comes back to the emotions, challenging them to be amazing is emotionally satisfying. Singing poorly is not.

I said there was SO MUCH MORE to listening. Alfred Tomatis was a French ear & throat doctor who proposed many interesting theories about the relationship between the ear and the brain. He said the ear had a third purpose besides balancing the body and hearing/listening. The ear, he said, charged the brain. And our brains hungered for this charge, this resonance. He went back to the womb and pointed out that the ear of the fetus only heard high pitches, the overtones of its parents voices, the k sh ss consonants. And just as the umbilical cord hungered for nutrients, the ear hungered for stimulus. And as the child grew older this reaching out to sound, reaching out to resonance, continued. By placing earphones on a child’s head and feeding in the mother’s voice, minus the low overtones, Dr. Tomatis was able to recreate the sound the child experienced in the womb. Children with all manner of learning challenges have been taught to listen, to communicate, to hunger for sound, to hunger for learning. I encourage you to keep an open mind about the Tomatis Method. There is SO MUCH MORE going on. SO MUCH MORE.

I want to teach you an important word, “ENTRAINMENT.” Entrainment is when one pulse imitates another pulse. If you remove two cells from a frogs’ beating heart, they will continue to pulse. If you place them near each other, their pulses synchronize. An audience’s breathing pulse will synchronize during a concert. Music calms the savage beast. We can slow down brain waves by creating slower pulses in our music.

 

My first days teaching kindergarten were a disaster. The faster I talked, pleading with them to settle down, the wilder they got. Then I learned about entrainment, spoke slowly and softly and gained complete control. Good teachers know this instinctively. I had to do my homework.

We seek the universal truths behind music. What is common about all music making on this earth? The ethnomusicologist I mentioned before, John Blacking, found that the children of humanity’s diverse cultures learned music by imitating the music of the adults. Their imitations were simplifications. This is not dumbing down. It is a complex West African rhythm becoming a simpler pattern. It is complex Navaho chants becoming charming children’s songs. Leonard Bernstein used Blackings ideas to propose in his Norton Lectures, which you can watch on Youtube, that we are genetically wired to create music.

There are powerful elements of music common to all cultures, the hypnotic power of pulse, the charging of the brain, the expressive emotions expressed through vowels common to all. But there are differences we need to observe. In West Africa, there is no such things as performance. Music is a gift to be shared, a community event where everyone is a participant in some way. The music has a purpose, like a song for helping the garden to grow. In Buddhism there is the concept of Nadha Bramha, the world is made of sound. Making music is a deeply spiritual activity for this reason. We have to be careful in singing the music of the world’s cultures not to let our own cultural paradigms obscure the beauty of these other cultures.

I once asked Joseph Shabalala of the group Ladysmith Black Mambazo why all his songs were in the key of F. He said, “What is the key of F?” I was using my culture to define his. His is an oral tradition as is 95% of the world’s music.

There is a powerful connection between emotions and culture. Why do some dislike the music of Bach?   It isn’t so much the music they dislike. They dislike people who like Bach. They are not emotionally drawn to the culture. The same is true of country Western, hip hop, jazz, and the huge diversity of expression on this planet. We tend to live in our own cultural bubbles, emotionally safe and warm.

We are emotionally drawn to the culture first, then the music, not the other way around.

Here is a song that parodies our reaction to hearing birds and wondering if their songs are music.

song: IS IT MUSIC by Nick Page (published by Alfred Publishers)
Two birds were sitting on a branch,
watching children in a field as they danced.
The children made a noise,
all the girls and boys;
a silly bunch of sounds all up to chance.

“I understand the croaking of the toads
I understand the wolves, their lonesome odes,
I understand the words
of my fellow birds
The sounds these children make are secret codes.”

“Why do they sing of rainbows off somewhere?
Are they dreaming of the clouds up in the air?
What is it they are after?
Is it tears or is it laughter?
Is it nonsense? Is it noise? Or is it prayer?

And yes, it’s music!
It’s beauty and it’s art!
Yes, it’s music.
It’s singing from the heart!
This is why we children sing,

I return to the words of ethnomusicologist John Blacking:

“By . . . establishing that musicality is a universal, . . . we can show that human beings are even more remarkable than we presently believe them to be – and not just a few human beings, but all human beings – and that the majority of us live far below our potential, because of the oppressive nature of most societies.” How Musical Is Man p 116

When I create music with children, I don’t think of it as performance. I think of it sharing, as a humble act of compassion. The sun gives us light. The trees turn the light into air to breath. Compassion is woven into the fabric of this universe and when we sing, we are making the world a more beautiful place.

During his years of dementia, I took my father for drives. One day I stopped by a field of yellow flowers on a sunny day. I asked my father, “What are the flowers telling you?” He thought for a moment, then said, “Shine.” So, of course, I wrote a song about it.

song: SO MUCH MORE by Nick Page
The flowers’ simple message,
Shine just like the sun,
Give back the light, the love that you receive.

And so it is with music,
Songs are like the sun,
We sing because there’s so much light within.

So sing out with your soul
and sing out with your light,
There’s so much more than music going on.
So much more than music,
So much more than music,
So much more than music going on.

Brian Swimme, the scientist who wrote “The Universe Is a Green Dragon,” wrote, “The Universe evolved to create the child and the voice of the child became the unlimited expression of the Universe.” And what was that song?   Ah   Oh   Oo Like the light of the sun, a compassionate gift.

I believe that children are capable of SO MUCH MORE. When I was a conductor with the Chicago Children’s Choir, we sang the Bach Magnificat. The Chicago Children’s Choir, all 6,000 children, still lift hearts in their 61st year.   The choir was created by the Rev. Christopher Moore based on his belief that children from diverse cultures were capable of coming together to be amazing, to let their lights out, to sing as an act of compassion, to heal the world.

That first song sung by the first mother: Ah – a song of love – not a complacent love, but an unseen force. Martin Luther King, in one of his last speeches, said, “Power without love is corrosive. Love without power is anemic.” Our love needs to be fierce. Chris Hedges, in his book, “Empire of Illusion,” ends with the words, “Love constantly rises up to remind a wayward society of what is real and what is illusion.” End quote.

Love rises up when we sing with children. Love heals when we sing with children. There is so much more than music going on. And remember the words of Elie Weisel, Holocaust survivor and human rights advocate, “The opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference.”  There is no indifference when children sing. There is no indifference when we let children’s creativity be heard. There is no indifference when we sing as an act of compassion. There is no indifference when our fierce love of life shines in every song. There is SO MUCH MORE.

I think our greatest calling as musicians and as teachers is to help our fellow human beings to tear down (or to keep open) the walls that prevent us from fully loving, fully hearing, fully seeing, fully experiencing the Magnificence of this world. Please rise.

song: DO YOU SHINE? Do you let the light in? Do you let the light out? Do you shine?

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SHAPENOTE SINGING AT BREAD & PUPPET by Nick Page 6/12/14
The history of shapenote singing is very rich with diverse styles evolving from Maine down to Georgia in the 18th and 19th centuries.   I am no expert, but for many years have enjoyed singing these marvelous anthems.   It is called shapenote singing because the notes have shapes instead of just circles.   The triangle is Fa, the circle is Sol, the square is La, and the diamond is Mi.   The major scale is sung Fa Sol La Fa Sol La Mi Fa.   The music is sometimes called “Fa Sol La Music” because of the repetition of the Fa Sol La sequence.   When someone says, “Sing with shapes,” it means to sing the song using the Fa Sol La syllables. The system was created as a way to teach non-readers how to read music.   Most early hymnals did not have written music.   They were simply the texts.   An “Amazing Grace” in Boston could sound completely different in Atlanta because the melodies were not written down. The shapenote tradition began in New England then moved south. It stayed in the South but eventually came back to New England.   The first published shapenote hymnals appeared in the South with the Sacred Harp book being the most popular.   There are several other collections still in print including collections of new shapenote hymns.   The texts are old Christian hymn texts, many by Isaac Watts, a London writer who published a series of collections starting in 1709.

I only attend one shapenote singing community on a regular basis, so I have nothing else to compare them to.   On Tuesday nights in the summer, I sing at the shapenote sing at Bread & Puppet Theater in Glover, VT. The Northeast Kingdom area of Vermont breeds tough folk, ancestors of the old Calvinists.   Many of them may be liberals, but the Calvinism is still in their blood.   When you wake up to a beautiful day, the correct reaction is, “We’ll pay for this.”

The sings begin at 7:30.   Most folk take their time getting there but by 8, the place is rocking.   It is held in the New Theater, a barn with a dirt floor and ascending benches on one side for audiences of their Friday night shows.   Rickety wooden benches are placed in a square on the dirt floor.   Two benches for the basses face two for the sopranos. Five benches for the altos face the tenors who sit on the first three or four riser benches. A handful of observers sit behind them, scattered about.

There is a cardboard box full of twenty ragged old SACRED HARP hymnals.   They also have two cardboard boxes full of copies of tunes sorted alphabetically in manila binders. Most songs are from the SACRED HARP, but many are from an assortment of other books.   About every two weeks, someone introduces a new piece they have written.   We struggle to learn them and the reaction is usually a polite, “You shouldn’t have bothered.”   New pieces are welcome because everyone believes that shapenote singing is a living tradition, still evolving. But it doesn’t mean singers are obliged to like the new pieces.

Bread & Puppet is a theater troupe that travels during the winter with their progressively charged political puppet shows and free bread baked in outdoor ovens. The shows are the creation of founder Peter Schumann.   With the help of apprentices, volunteers and staff he creates puppets, some as small as your hand, some as large as a barn. He creates the dramas, writes much of the music and bakes the bread that is served for free. In the summer time, they bring in college students who pay to be apprentices for the season.   These young folk are all very hippy dippy and a bit spoiled.   But they love singing the old shapenote songs.   They particularly like the ones where we’re all going to burn in Hell.

Peter Schumann’s co-founder and wife, Elka Schumann is the driving force behind the sings, but many people take turns leading songs.   If they request it, they lead it.   Or sometimes they’ll request that a particular person leads a particular song.   Their favorite song is called #117, also known as “Babylon is Fallen.” They sing it like wild goats on speed with a resonance that loosens fillings.   Loud would be an understatement.   There’s a moment in the refrain where the tenors come in a beat early. There’s sort of a communal kick in the pants at this point.   It’s like being pinched, cute, well meaning, but playfully rude.

Tempos change from song to song, often within a song.   Plodding is not allowed, nor is rushing.   Singers struggle with the occasional unfamiliar song.   I once introduced a song that few knew, Jeremiah Ingall’s “The Young Convert,” pg. 24. They had a hard time the first week, did better the second week, and by the third week, it was one of their favorites.

For the more unfamiliar songs, we start with the tenor part (melody) sung with shapes.   Most parts sing along.   Then we sing the other parts one at a time with shapes – all are welcome to sing along.   Then we sing it all together with shapes and then with the words.   With easier songs, we sometimes simply dive into them, but usually with shapes first time.   Those who don’t know shapes struggle along and eventually pick up the rudiments.

A pitchpipe would be most unwelcome.   Someone establishes a pitch and everyone struggles to find the first pitches for each part. They then start to sing the song, soon realizing it’s either too high or too low.   They tend to sing everything very low, so the basses are in an uncomfortable range but everyone else is as happy as a clam.   I’m a trained choral musician, a fact that a few there know.   I try to stay out of the process of choosing the key.   But if they ask, I give them the perfect pitch to start on, never in the key it is written in.

There are the standard mix of choral types – the prima donas who have everything memorized and who give nasty looks to people who sing their parts wrong, the knowing elders who also know everything but who have learned humility and quietly participate, and the eager beavers who jump up to lead a song as soon as the previous song is over.

I bring my 1991 edition of the Sacred Harp to the sings.   In the blank opening pages, I have all the favorites written down with the page numbers, songs like, “New Jerusalem,” “Soar Away,” “Poland,” “Africa,” “Greenwich,” “Stratfield,” and my favorite, “David’s Lamentation.” On its’ phrase “O my son,” everyone bellows with great power.   When “O my son” is repeated, they sing it as a whisper (with the exception of the obligatory new person who is ignorant).   Most of the singers don’t actually shun ignorance. Just the opposite, they seem to embrace it.

In most choral groups, singing is a communal event.   One has to constantly suppress one’s volume and comply to a uniformity of tone, tempo, and texture.   No such limitations exist at the Bread & Puppet shapenote sings.   It’s a friendly competition like a game of volleyball.   It is complete freedom.

The sings end at around 9 pm and fresh baked goods are offered along with mint water (water with mint leaves in it).   People hang out for a while, some helping to put away the benches and the music.   Then it is over, the lights go out and people carry the harmonies with them to their rest.

One night, after singing about death, welcoming Hell, and the inaccessibility of Heaven, I departed the sing and was stung by the beauty of the stars.   I wrote a shapenote hymn that night.

GLOVER by Nick Page
We sing of death, Oh lonely death,
Of being Heaven bound.
Then exit there and upward stare,
The light of Heaven found.

The stars of night, Oh brilliant night,
Their wonder knows no end.
We look with awe, absorb the awe,
Our light, with wonder, send.

Give out your light, your humble light,
And share what you receive.
For like the stars, we all must give
To Heaven before we leave.

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BENEFITS OF MUSIC   by Nick Page 4/12
MUSIC FOR MUSIC’S SAKE
       Simply being musical is enough of a reason to keep music in the schools.   The ability to make and appreciate music is innate behavior coded into our genes.   To be musical is to be human.
Music teaches beauty.
Creating beauty is an act of compassion.   When we make music, we are making the world a more beautiful place.
Music strengthens our cultural bonds with the past and future.   Music helps to define who we are culturally.
Music strengthens our cultural bonds with each other.   Music helps us to cross cultural borders.
The Navahos say we “Walk in Beauty,” meaning we are part of the harmony of all life and all things.   This harmony comes alive when we make music.
The Hindu expressions, “Nadha Brahma, the world is made of sound,” applies to us as well.   We resonate music and making music is a natural response to life.

MUSIC AS BENEFIT TO EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
      Music, along with dance, is an extremely emotional expression.
Music making and performance builds confidence.   This confidence carries over to other experiences.
The child transcends confidence to reach awe and wonder.
Music provides emotional outlets that children desperately need.   Music making shows students that being emotional in an academic setting is acceptable.
An aura of power is created with great music making.   The student is filled with a strong sense of self-worth as well a sense of connection to a greater community.   This power is far preferable to the many negative sources of power that our youth are allured to.
Music provides communication possibilities for those who have difficulty expressing their emotions.   This is the basis for music therapy.
Music making and performance provides needed “adrenaline rushes” and peak experiences that our evolutionary ancestors required, and our “civilized” selves need to regain.
Our emotions affect the music we are drawn to.   Often it is our emotional connection to a culture that draws us to that culture’s music.   The opposite can be true as well.
MUSIC AS BENEFIT TO READING, WRITING AND OTHER SKILLS
       Music activities require listening.   All listening skills for all academic subjects are aided by music activities.
One can not accurately sing a note without first accurately hearing it.   This internalization of sound (audiation) helps children in their transition from reading out loud to reading silently (hearing words in their heads.)   Similarly, this “inner hearing” is an aid to all silent problem solving like math and science.   (see www.giml.org/audiation.php)
Those who learn instruments develop self discipline.
Those who learn instruments learn how to learn.  Practicing is the brain and body’s way to figure out great complexities without constant tutelage.
Those who learn instruments are constantly dealing with problem solving skills.
Those who learn instruments, through the student/teacher relationship, learn to be very goal centered.
Those who learn instruments learn self-assessment as well as assessment through competition.
Alfred Tomatis believes that there is a correlation between the hunger to listen and the hunger to learn.   This hunger, he says, begins in the womb with the fetus’ brain being fed and charged with sound.   Throughout our lives, music continues to charge the brain and stimulate our hunger for learning.
Nick Page believes that there is a correlation between the ability to sustain a pulse and the ability to sustain one’s attention span.
Music making is a natural extension of our tendency to play.   The elements of play are the same as the elements of music; imitation, repetition, contrast, variation, and exaggeration.
Music is made of patterns.  Becoming aware of these patterns, both consciously and subconsciously, helps a child with patterns (often similar) in math, science, and general cognitive skills.  Former Czeck president Václav Havel said, “Education is the ability to perceive the hidden connections between phenomena.”
Like learning the alphabet through the alphabet song, songs can be a powerful learning and memorization tool.
Georgi Lazanov believes that certain background music enhances some forms of learning.   This may apply only to some.
When our brains entrain to slow pulses, we become relaxed—slow music can remove stress.  (Entrainment is when one pulse imitates another pulse)
When our brains entrain to fast pulses, our brains become more active—often more creative.
Entrainment can be used to solve discipline problems or to change the mood in a classroom.
In the overall rhythm of a child’s day, music activities make great transition vehicles, particularly simple call and response or echo songs.
Songs with lots of movement, particularly dance, help with body/mind coordination.   Playing instruments is all about body/mind coordination.
The act of improvising and writing songs helps children synchronize their left and right brains.
Group singing creates vibrations throughout the body.   Sound healers believe that these vibrations are good for us—they are healing.
We instinctively make a loud sound when we hurt ourselves.   Sound healers believe that this is our natural way of using sound to remove pain.
Studies have shown that singing strengthens the immune system.
MUSIC TO BENEFIT GROUP SKILLS
     Group singing strengthens cooperation skills.
Children who sing and celebrate together create strong bonds with each other and with their schools.  Group singing increases their sense of belonging.
Rehearsing for concerts helps discipline by creating focus.
Simply by having singing celebrations (group sings), we demonstrate to children that celebration in life is important.
When children perform for each other, they radiate with pride and joy.   Radiance is good.
When we create a supportive environment, we develop cooperation skills where problem solving becomes a group event, not a dysfunctional denial of the problems.
The divisions between the talented and the untalented are not as great as our hierarchical mass culture would suggest.   Group music making helps students to see that everyone has talent.
When students perform in ensembles, their creativity and their compassion are helping to shape their environment.   In the process, they come to own the school.   Their identities change.   They become learners in a vibrant learning community.

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COMPOSING FROM A CULTURAL PERSPECTIVE by Nick Page 1995

As a composer and choral arranger, I have become increasingly aware of the presence of culture in the creative process. Just as a composer cannot escape composing from a personal perspective, so also the composer cannot escape from a cultural perspective. Composers must choose, either consciously or subconsciously, to emphasize either the personal or the cultural perspective or any of the possible shades in between. The composer who chooses to ignore all cultural influences creates a culture of one made up of him or herself. This composer either leads the way for future paths in music or is forgotten completely over time.
A Viennese composer writing a symphony in 1775 would choose instrumentation based on pre-set cultural standards–strings, woodwinds, brass, and kettle drums. Likewise the composer would choose forms and textures from the palette of a classical composer–sonata form, rondo, minuet, theme and variations. Much of the repetition within the chosen form would be suggested by the same cultural habits manifested within a simple folksong of that time and culture. An A theme would either be followed by a simple variation of the A theme or a complimentary B theme. Take the song, “Twinkle Twinkle” as we know it today. Cultural habits suggest that the ascending phrase “Twinkle twinkle little star” be followed by a complementary phrase within exactly the same rhythm, “How I wonder what you are.” That we see such a sequence as a natural one shows how much we are conditioned by our culture. These same cultural guidelines helped Mozart with the opening phrase from “Eine Kleine Nachtmuzik.” Mozart and Salieri both composed within the same cultural framework. What sets the two apart was that Mozart was able to make the music completely his own. The flights of his imagination knew no bounds, whereas Salieri was bound by an imagination that could not go beyond the obvious—he was satisfied with clichés.
Composers in this century have been given a huge palette of cultural styles and philosophies to choose from. Stravinsky embraced his native Russian culture then went on to compose within 18th century classical formats, 12 tone Viennese formats, and American jazz formats. Each piece was undoubtedly the work of a singular genius. Classical composers like Bernstein crossed the huge cultural border between classical and popular styles. That huge cultural border is becoming less and less distinct as more and more composers choose to compose within multiple cultural (multicultural) frameworks. The minimalistic palette, for example, is inspired by West African drumming, jazz rhythms, and the forms and modalities of the Raga. Ligeti, who broke ground forty years ago with his multi-tonal clusters has consciously embraced the cultures of his native Eastern Europe with his latest pieces. Tonality, once the enemy of all things modern, can now be seen as an honoring of one’s culture.
Mid-century, serialists and others led the way, but nobody followed. The serialists ignored culture. If more tonal music is composed today, it is probably because more and more composers choose to embrace culture rather than ignore it. The danger in this is that we could end up with a world of Salieri’s—composers whose only wish is to satisfy the dictates of the public, just as rock and roll is controlled by the whims of the marketplace.
Becoming aware of the cultural presence in all music has been inspirational for me as a composer, but there is an equally inspirational perspective, the biological perspective—how sound effects the body, mind, and spirit and how each culture then shapes these sounds into what we call music. The end result is that the music of every culture effects our minds, bodies, and spirits differently. Composing within both the biological and cultural perspectives broadens the palette in infinite ways.

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Standards Of Excellence  by Nick Page  1997
      In March of 1997, Geoffrey Holland, Director of Choral Studies at Tennessee Technological University, sent out a questionnaire to seven ACDA members from different backgrounds. The answers appeared in a Spring 1998 ACDA Choral Journal article on choral standards in the coming century. Here are two of my answers.
How would you define standards of excellence in choral music? It is essential that we examine all standards from cultural perspectives. We can no longer catalog music into categories of good verses bad, saying, for example, that the music of J. S. Bach is better than country music. The same would apply to comparing a Renaissance choir and a Gospel choir. The differences are more cultural than they are musical, therefore defining the standards of excellence for each will be radically different. We need to acknowledge what I call the choral family, the fact that every culture has a group singing tradition that helps to define itself.
What makes American choral music unique in performance and practice? What makes the Western hemisphere so ripe for all the arts is the cultural influx of both indigenous and immigrant people. Each culture continues to influence each other, creating a constantly evolving rainbow of human expression. The democratic values within the United States add a significant, though not yet fully realized, dimension to this promise. The US Constitution guarantees that we all have an equal and important voice—this has a profound effect on the arts, promising each individual as well as each culture freedom to express itself. We should never take this for granted.