How to dance the French way ;)

…our life, like the harmony of the world, is composed of contrary things — of diverse tones, sweet and harsh, sharp and flat, sprightly and solemn: the musician who should only affect some of these, what would he be able to do? he must know how to make use of them all, and to mix them; and so we should mingle the goods and evils which are consubstantial with our life; our being cannot subsist without this mixture, and the one part is no less necessary to it than the other.

Michel De Montaigne

In this world of on-demand 24 hour streaming music, there is a risk of taking for granted the wonder of the form. The same songs played on repeat lose their meaning, they become part of the background. Perhaps comforting for their familiarity, but without the stirring of the soul, without the goosebumps and the exhilaration of newly discovered resonance.

When I was a little younger I toyed around with dance music — deep bass, break beats, house drums, things like that — and eventually found the form somewhat lacking. The beats too robotic, like being connected to a mechanical ventilator, forcing air in and out of your lungs without sympathy. Every eight bars like another city block in a checkered pattern of loosely redundant architecture.

Trading one vinyl record shop for another, I then found my way into the world of classic rock and R&B. Slow jams and ballads and grooves. Every album cover a work of art, every B-side a surprising contrast. Yes the form of compositions were largely similar, but the guitars could breath, they were organic. The singers brought everything to life.

Lately I’ve been playing a lot of keyboard, Beethoven and Mozart and Chopin. Am somewhat a slave to the sheet music am afraid — let’s just say jazz is not my forte. The experience is kind of hard to describe. When I’m playing I don’t always hear everything in the moment, too lost in what’s coming next. Put differently, it’s like I’m only hearing the next notes to be played, but more visually than audibly. Even so, the experience of playing music is so much more engrossing than listening to a recording. You’re living it. You’re a part of it. It surrounds you.

The musicianship of playing sheet music on the printed page resembles those dance songs you hear at a wedding. The MC tells you when to put your right foot in, when to stomp, when to clap your hands. Like an American line dance where the crowd assembles in straight lines and rows, those like me who have no idea what they’re doing looking to their neighbors for guidance, the collective rhythm kind of averaging out to approximate the drum loop, requiring more courage to participate than creativity.

Lately I’ve begun adding a little Debussy to my repertoire, a French composer, and finding a real distinction between the music of Beethoven and Mozart. The form of composition is more fluid. There are more surprises, less predictability. The accidentals sharps and flats more prevalent, the tones more varied. Finding my fingers a little unsure of themselves, the tempo with a mind of its own. This French dance a foreign language to my tongue.

The French dance is one of grace, eloquence, and sincerity. Of wearing your heart on your sleeve and carrying yourself with poise. And then I turn the page and find the French dance is one of creativity and flowing like jazz, teasing and laughing, cutting all your hair off for no apparent reason and then growing it all back. This French dance is one of joy and exuberance, as if the word embarrassment is not in your vocabulary. This French dance is one of celebration, of singing Alicia Keys at the top of your lungs. Lining up and kicking your feet high in the air, yes we can can.

A dance of celebration, of the release from four long years of chaos, of nuptials and country roads and family. Dancing like you didn’t destroy your knees on the running trail, like you could go on for hours. Singing your heart out even if you don’t know the words or what they mean. You’re living it. You’re a part of it. It surrounds you.

Composing a music of your own.

Claude Debussy’s Danse — Nicholas Teague

For further readings please check out the Table of Contents, Book Recommendations, and Music Recommendations. For more on Automunge: automunge.com



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Nicholas Teague

Nicholas Teague

Writing for fun and because it helps me organize my thoughts. I also write software to prepare data for machine learning at automunge.com. Consistently unique.