Occasionally, a musician will ask a question during a rehearsal about a note possibly being wrong. Sometimes, they base their question on well–informed evidence; past passages, rules of harmony, even intuition gleaned through their training. Sometimes the musician is right–there is an error in the score or part, or perhaps even another part. Sometimes the musician is wrong, and I point out why based on clear evidence from the score. Occasionally, it is a judgement call, where we work together to find the closest match to the the truth of the score; a compromise. But one thing is for certain, the are no “alternative notes” just because someone isn’t comfortable with the reality of the music. Sorry, but it’s a B-flat, whether you like it or not.
Now of course there are variances and exceptions. Music that invites open improvisation (Jazz or Baroque music for example) allows one to make choices, based on the structure present. That is creativity performed over another type of fact—an existing written structure, and what makes one improvisation different from another. Yet each clearly still belongs to the composer’s original idea. Intonation is another matter, as the inflection of the B-flat can be different, depending on the function of the note (harmonic use, melodic direction, etc). This is a most worthy discussion to engage in as musical citizens, and has resulted in a continual and exciting evolution over time.
To apply this sketch to politics is an interesting, and perhaps fruitful exercise. In my opinion, this is what lacks in the current political climate:
1. Inflection. We are not taking the facts that are true and applying them to reality, or even using them to learn from and improve the situation. Listening to the people (We the People-All the People) would be a good start. Failure to do so marginalizes an important segment of the population as clearly as if that B-flat were not there at all. Its removal no longer brings major or minor into the debate, but may simply result in an incompleteness and hollowness. Include the B-flat and the world changes.
2. Creativity. Unlike good improvisers, we are afraid of engaging in creativity over a set structure (the U.S. Constitution). The structure is there to inspire, not constrict. Our founding documents were written to be open, living documents, much as a composer’s score is meant to be an inviting, thriving act of performance. We need to perform our democracy, not enshrine it in a mausoleum.
3. Engagement. Active engagement is required for making a more perfect union. The rehearsal can sometimes be quite difficult, and you are only as good as your last performance. But with diligent work, the process becomes easier and clear to the participants. Let’s all attend our county’s “rehearsals and performances” on time and with careful attention. Then let’s be willing to return to the work required to continue, knowing that it is a perpetual building process.
Obviously, I see direct parallels with my life in music. My life as a citizen should be no different. Our government should be no different. I will continue to expect and demand that the elected representatives of my country inflect, engage, and create based on clear facts and well-reasoned plans. My musical colleagues demand no less of me, and I strive to fulfill that trust. It is my expectation that the country’s leaders do the same.
But to reiterate, there are no “alternative notes” when dealing with the score. True, you can embellish, adjust, and yes, sometimes that B-flat sounds an awful lot like an A-sharp. But there is little room for spin with the root, third or fifth of a chord. Nor is there much point in ignoring the tonic–the foundation.
To paraphrase a famous musician joke: “If we don’t C#, we’ll likely B-flat.” But let’s also acknowledge the B-flat is a vital, useful note, all the same.
I hope we can “raise the bar-line.” All of us. See you in rehearsal.
Copyright, 2017. Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat