Wonder vs. Why: The Bridge of Waves Book Club for Musically Curious Dancers

Bridge of WavesI’ve contemplated starting a book club for quite some time, but I never had a book scream to be shared with others chapter-by-chapter right from the beginning until now. By the end of the introduction to W.A. Mathieu’s Bridge of Waves: What Music Is and How Listening to It Changes the World, I knew I wanted to take the time to reflect deeply and share openly. Musicality is one of my absolute favorite topics of discussion, and Mathieu’s book promises to provide great fuel for this fire.

So in two weeks, starting Tuesday, March 1, I will be “hosting” a Bridge of Waves book club on Joy in Motion every Tuesday. Feel free to post responses or your own thoughts in the Comments of each post so we can have an engaging discussion. If you are a blogger, you are welcome to post a link to your own blog post related to the chapter for that week, and everyone can respond to all posts through the comments on the respective sites. And of course anyone can read the book and follow along with the weekly posts without any obligation to participate unless they feel drawn to.

Since we have two weeks until the official start of the book club, you have time to order the book through Amazon or Barnes & Noble and start reading. The first post on March 1 will explore some of the concepts found in the book’s introduction (and keep reading below for a sneak peek!). From there we will read a chapter a week (for a total of ten weeks/chapters) and post every Tuesday. To get you excited about what’s to come, here are the chapter titles:

1. Music as Body
2. Music as Mind
3. Music as Heart
4. Feeling Mind, Thinking Heart
5. Music as Life
6. Music as Story
7. Music as Mirror
8. Music on the Zen Elevator
9. The Enlightened Listener
10. Living the Waves

You wouldn’t believe the self control required to have this book sitting on my nightstand and not read ahead! But I am so excited about exploring this book with friends old and new. I hope you will join me, or at least follow along. If now is not a good time, I encourage you to put this book on your reading list for sometime in the future.

Finally, to give you a taste of what to expect in the coming weeks, below is my first reflection on this book based on part of the introduction. On March 1, I will explore another concept from the introduction that I have been wanting to write about for a while. And not only does Mathieu articulate this idea quite beautifully, he also reveals the meaning behind the title of the book! So stay tuned and get ready for our official start on March 1, but until then here’s where we begin. Enjoy!

Name vs. Nameless, Wonder vs. Why…

The introduction begins with Mathieu seated at a piano bench in a small concert hall, about to begin a completely improvised performance. From the blank canvas of his mind, with no preconceptions, he sounds the first note. The moment this first note becomes reality, and even before, something magical happens:

Then, as a familiar sky lights up in my skull, the tone extends into a gold ribbon leading to an inner horizon where an ocean of the waves called music begins to surge in all directions.

Where has that first note come from?

Although he is speaking of music, his words could also be written about the beginning of a dance – tango, perhaps, but just as easily salsa or swing or waltz. In addition to the hearing of the first note, in dance we have the taking of the first step. Or maybe not even that much. Maybe just the first breath and slight sway barely visible to the observer. The moment we first connect – or don’t – with our partner and the music opens up limitless possibility.

Mathieu goes on to reflect on a common point of discussion, debate, and struggle among and between dancers: the unity and tension between technique and structure on the one hand, and connection and expression on the other:

I did fortunately begin to recognize that naming something is different from hearing it, just as surely as reading the menu is not eating the dinner. Though I wish I’d had more guidance, I did gradually learn that there is a time for the name and a time for the nameless . . . Since I’m a teacher and a writer as well as a composer of written music, I have learned to name just about anything nameable in music; at the same time I’ve had to develop strategies for dwelling long and clear in the nameless intuitive.

Yes, we do love our labels. Especially in dance, we always want to know what the step is called, where our feet and hands are supposed to go, how long and how much. In a tango musicality intensive I attended earlier this year, instructor Alex Krebs told of a student in a previous class who asked “How long do you pause for?” in reference to a pause in between movements. Another student in the class shouted out, “How long do you kiss someone for?” In the end, there is no absolute rule for the movement and the stillness; each should come from feeling and not from formula.

A musician friend explored this same concept in his Christian faith and beautifully phrased it as a question of ”Wonder v. Why”:

I remember sitting in a Philosophy class during the time this song was emerging.  I was so inspired through the questions my professor was asking that I thought about changing my major and diving fully into them myself in a more academic manner.  Somewhere in that process I realized that while I enjoy asking the questions, I equally enjoy reaching the point where I run out of answers, into mystery, and ultimately, onto worship… After all, in the ever-present battle between wonder and why, wonder always wins.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that while labels, rules, limits, and structure light the path, they are not the path itself. Which is where we get this idea of learning the rules until we forget we know them (see Finding Flow on the Dance Floor, Part 1: Social Dance as Sport for more on this concept). This isn’t to say that technique is unimportant, as is often argued in dance discussions. On the contrary, technique is not discarded but rather internalized and transcended. Far from being opposing ideas, in actuality freedom and limits – the wonder and the why – are inseparable. Mathieu comes to the same conclusion:

It turns out that first note I play (which is about to let loose thousands more) is named G-sharp, although I know this only later, in hindsight. At the moment I play the G-sharp, I know its name only in the way we know the spelling of words as we speak them.

Ultimately the named and the nameless co-arise; they are inseparably braided, not unlike speaking and writing. One learns devotion to a life of braiding the named and the nameless.

I love this concept of braiding two seemingly opposing ideas. Dance for me is unity through opposites: movement and stillness, intellect and emotion, connection and solitude, absorption and relaxation, transcendence and groundedness. The struggle to define as “either-or” closes us off from the opportunity to feel the truth and beauty of “both-and”. When we find peaceful co-existence between opposites, we arrive at a fuller and richer experience of what the music and the dance have to offer us.

* * *

Here’s the next post in this series:
Musicality Book Club, Week 1: Grounded Spirituality Through Upper and Lower Body

2 comments on Wonder vs. Why: The Bridge of Waves Book Club for Musically Curious Dancers

  1. cypresssalsero1
    March 7, 2011 at 7:22 pm (13 years ago)

    I’m enjoying the book so far. I’ve read to page 46, in the chapter of Music as Mind. I thought his introduction was awesome. When Mathieu refers to the “named” and the “un-named”, it made me think of dance choreography… how learning dance requires some choreography and some improvisation to interpret the music. The teacher teaches and the student learns accordingly. So the student is urged to learn and perform a series of both pre-planned/ pre-constructed steps and at some point… an improvised lead and follow. At the same time, you have a dialogue between instructor and student that uses “names” or “labels” for certain movements. I can only speak from my experience of learning to dance Salsa. For example, in Salsa you have a movement called Cross Body Lead, which in Cuban-style is also called “dile que no” … in most styles of Salsa you have a Cross-Body-Lead with a turn, and that is sometimes referred to as “coca-cola”. So you have standard movements, sometimes slight variations, at other times it can be the exact same movement, but with a different name. Also, you can analyze a dance… carefully watch a couple dancing and you will see a series of standard movements but at various points there may be a lot of improvisation.

    Some of Mathieu’s technical explanation is way over my head. I appreciate everything he has written so far. I try and take what I do understand and reflect upon it based upon my limited knowledge of music. On the other hand, I personally don’t like oversimplifications; for example, a few years ago, in the field of Psychology, many people were writing about individuals who were “right-brained” or “left-brained”. I think that is silly because we use both sides of our brain. But there is value in magnifying the obvious. So with a book like this one, I try to eat the meat and throw away the bones.

    • Joy in Motion
      March 8, 2011 at 7:25 pm (13 years ago)

      Hmm, I don’t think I’ve read anything overly technical yet, although the Music as Mind chapter isn’t until next week. Maybe we can discuss next Tuesday what parts seem a little hard to grasp. I am definitely enjoying reading slower than is normal for me – one chapter per week – because it really gives me time to digest. I’ve gone back and read several sections twice and meditated on them for a while. I think when you do this you allow more of the nuances to come out and maybe come to understand some of the concepts that alluded you before. The same benefit can be found by slowing down in the dance as well.

      I definitely get grumpy with oversimplifications myself. But your point about “magnifying the obvious” is well taken. This definitely applies to teaching. I think it’s good to magnify the obvious and keep some things very simple, but it’s also important to awaken students to the deeper elements that exist so they are awakened to these possibilities later on. And I think when you do this you encourage students to think for themselves and start looking below the surface on their own. Asking questions of students is important. But I find many teachers want to hoard the knowledge so that students will come back and to maintain an image of knowing and being able to do more than the masses.

      Getting back on track, I’m not sure where you’re finding oversimplifications in the book so far. Maybe you can point them out as you see them in the particular chapter we are on so we can discuss. I’m sure I’ll want to pounce on them if I see them too.

      Glad you’re enjoying the book so far!


Leave a Comment