Musicality Book Club, Week 6: The Complexity of Goodness

bookThis week we’re on Chapter 6 of Bridge of Waves: Music as Life. Only the second page into this chapter and I let out a big sigh. How many arguments have I listened to in which dancers have insisted that because dance is a form of self-expression anything goes and nothing is bad or wrong? While I appreciate their desire to emphasize personal freedom, I have always believed they have gone to the extreme in putting that freedom above connection, which is just as central to partner dance as freedom of self-expression. The point of partner dance is to communicate and connect to create a shared expression, just as the purpose of a conversation is to give and receive for mutual understanding, not to just get words out by talking at the same time.

Here are some thoughts from Mathieu on this:

In music I can think of one maybe unbreakable rule: If it sounds good, it is good. The rule applies generally to composers and improvisers, and is meant to encourage free, creative play – intuitive choice balanced by subsequent reflection and discernment. The enemy is self-censure: Well, it sounds good, but you’re not supposed to do it that way. The “rule” addresses that voice. I do believe that if you are the only one listening, and the music sounds good to you, then it is good music. If others happen to be listening, however, they had best be consulted. “Good” in the arts can be taken to mean “beneficial,” and what is beneficial sorts itself out over many years and souls. A musician acting alone has only himself or herself as arbiter of “good.” When the music is let loose upon the world, the “goodness” of the music becomes as complex as the world.

The commensurate rule in real life would be: If it feels good, it is good. “Feels good” is broader than “sounds good” and that much harder to come to terms with. Let’s say that “feels” requires a scan of one’s whole being, so that smoking might feel good to part of yourself but the whole self knows it’s bad. “If it sounds good, it is good” has proved liberating for me as a composer, and for my composition students as I have been able to guide them to it. There’s a trick in these rules though. “Sounds good” changes over time as one’s skills and tastes develop. The rule works only if you factor in your potential for technical mastery and aesthetic growth, as well as your compassionate connection to the ear of the world. The real-life version, “if it feels good it is good,” is even more sensitively modulated by one’s growth. Not only your aesthetic sensibilities grow, but also your morals. Your awareness expands outward from mother’s breast to self to family to others to the cosmos, and one’s sense of what “feels good to the whole being” expands along with it. [pp. 110-111]

I love this: “When the music is let loose upon the world, the “goodness” of the music becomes as complex as the world… Not only your aesthetic sensibilities grow, but also your morals. Your awareness expands outward from mother’s breast to self to family to others to the cosmos, and one’s sense of what “feels good to the whole being” expands along with it.” As our souls expand, we naturally come to express ourselves in a way that receives and brings out the best in ourselves, our partners, other dancers on the floor and throughout the room, and even the “cosmos” in some mystical, magical way.

I’m not sure I have much more to write on this right now; I’m leaving plenty of space for reflection this week. Thoughts from anyone else?

* * *

Here’s the next post in this series:
Musicality Book Club, Week 7: Music and Dance as Social Ritual and Personal Meditation

2 comments on Musicality Book Club, Week 6: The Complexity of Goodness

  1. LadyLeader
    April 9, 2011 at 7:39 pm (7 years ago)

    If it sounds good it is good, it is good! Is one of Mathieus musical rules and in most of his aspects I agree with him.

    It is always correct to trust on this rule because there is the joy of musical experience and it can not be directly manipulated by me either. He continues with the fact that *sounds good* changes over time when tastes and skills develope. I fully agree and sometimes I listen songs/watch videos just every now and then to keep them alive longer! (Maybe here it is more about wear out)

    He considers the fear of leaving the shared rules and doing things differently is keeping us back. For me it is more the question if the result can be shared with others; can my steps be appreciated by my followers? and am I allowed to come to next milonga?

    An interesting detail was the fact that the principles in music have impact in his everyday life *The musical world has given me confidence in the larger world.*

    Reply
    • Joy in Motion
      April 11, 2011 at 7:40 pm (7 years ago)

      Yes, it’s definitely a delicate balance. I want my partner to understand me and yet I don’t want to assume that something will be beyond their reach either. There are often opportunities to open up the music for them, and they for me. If we become overly focused on being understood it can result in pandering, but we also don’t want to just dance for our own satisfaction without regard for the communication. Managing that creative tension can be sometimes exhilarating, sometimes frustrating, but I like contemplating this dynamic. Many dancers end up in the black or the white, either caring too much or caring too little, but it’s the shades of gray that provide the real joy. Nice thoughts, LadyLeader!

      Reply

Leave a Comment