Musicality Book Club, Week 9: Still, Empty, and Full of Feeling (Cadencia)

bookShort intro, because it’s one of those days! We’re on Chapter 8, Music on the Zen Elevator in W.A. Mathieu’s Bridge of Waves: What Music Is and How Listening to It Changes the World. Mathieu’s thoughts on listening actively and playing passively are once again making me reflect on the concept of cadencia…

I’m jumping straight to the sections that resonated with me the most:

Our word passion derives from the Latin passio, which means exposed to suffering or strong emotion, that is, being acted upon by them, and relates to passive, meaning emptied out and acted upon. As the dance stills and empties, it is filled with feeling. My mantra for music making is “Listen actively, play passively.” Listening actively takes great effort, but you will then be filled. [pp. 189-190]

And later in this chapter:

Asha Greer, a wise leader of spiritual practice, says she likes “to fill the full with empty in order to make more room.” Used in this way, emptiness is a highly refined version of our Latin-derived passion, an emptiness that can fill, finally, with being-as-it-is. Repeatedly we are reminded that the experience of these states can be fleeting indeed, a glimpse of the Absolute. [p. 202]

Reading these passages brings me back to the concept of cadencia in tango. Especially this: “As the dance stills and empties, it is filled with feeling.” It reminds me of what I wrote before about how pauses especially are moments when I feel that quality of cadencia the strongest. It truly is that “falling into simplicity” and a return to “what is essential,” as a dancer friend of mine posed as a question recently on Facebook. Going back to what I wrote in this last article:

Cadencia, for me, relates very strongly to pauses and momentary lilts – part of the punctuation – of the dance, since it is in these moments when obvious movement is at a minimum and, therefore, internal energy can be felt the strongest. It feels very much like the “falling into simplicity” of musical cadence, a slow deep breath that provides both rest and a building of energy to return to action. Isn’t this how we begin the dance, letting the music and the connection fill our body like lungs fill with air, waiting for the impulse to move? And isn’t this also how we finish the dance, settling into a final position that provides release and a parting essence? The start, the finish, the pauses in between… this ebb and flow of the dance, with its peaks and valleys, is also present in my body when I execute a pause and feel that quality of cadencia coursing through my body, that “surfing on the waves of the music and the connection.”

Of course we don’t have to be pausing or moving slowly or with small steps to have or feel cadencia, but it does seem more pronounced during these times, doesn’t it? The bigger we make something, the more difficulty we have finding subtlety and nuance. This doesn’t mean we can’t do anything big with meaning, just that it requires us to dig deeper in order to maintain that connection, that stillness and emptiness, so we can be filled.

I also love what Mathieu has to say about listening actively and playing passively. I have a feeling I will be meditating on this for a while. This is how I feel when I am truly in my element when I’m dancing: like my ears hear better, my pores are bigger, my touch is more sensitive, and all I am receiving just flows back out through my movement with minimal effort. What’s amazing is that this passive playing doesn’t feel passive in the negative sense that we typically use this word; it actually feels more alive and actively calm, like we’ve “fallen awake” (as Mathieu quotes Joe Miller on page 205).

Do you relate to this idea of still, empty, and full of feeling? What “triggers” elicit this experience the most for you?

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Here’s the next post in this series:
Musicality Book Club, Week 10: Unexpected Gifts in Music We Don’t Like

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