Thursday, March 9, 2017

Music: Truth Beauty and Goodness in Augustine and Indiana Jones

Music is the often neglected field of study in contemporary education.  Be it STEM or  Classical Education, Music is rarely mentioned. Standardized assessments do not include them and despite its proven benefits to cognitive development, the prevailing thought seems to be it is an added luxury or merely a skill building end in itself.  
Music however, is so thoroughly intertwined in Western philosophical thought that reading any significant author without this fundamental knowledge (whether Plato, Shakespeare, Kepler) leads to an incomplete understanding of the Philosophy behind their works. 
When I introduce this subject to my students, I liken the current view of Music (as consumable entertainment—a text driven medium accompanied by 3-4 chords ) the equivalent of reducing the history of Literature to James Patterson, and all Art to Thomas Kincaid. And all history to whatever talk show host happens to write a best selling (though unvetted “history” series.

I found that a great pop-culture metaphor in recognizing the intertwining of the Liberal Arts division of Trivium and Quadrivium is found in Raiders of the Lost Ark. 
 In particular the Headpiece of the Staff of Ra which provides the instructions in the map room for finding the Ark has two sides.

 If you recall, the self-serving empire builders only have one side of the headpiece,
We might refer to as the Trivium (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric) if taught in a skill building manner., It provides the warning not to disturb the Ark, but that it is to be placee on a staff that is 6 kadams high.

These instructions do not require any thought on the part of the reader, or why we should not disturb the Ark.  It is dogmatic

...BUT in addition to the "Trivium" side, Indy and Sallah also have the side which deals with the Quadrivium: For it is concerned with measurement (ratio) as well as an ethical reasoning as to why one should that measurement is made:

Take back one Kadam in honor of the Hebrew God whose Ark this is.

– While the Nazis are lost in their oversized  Indy and Sallah thoughtfully and together use both sides to find that which brings them closer to understanding the Cosmos (the Ark)- 


Likewise we have this visual representation of Harmonia with the “School of Athens” painting  The foundation is built with visual representations  the Quadrivium (Arithmetic, Music, Geometry, Astronomy) a view which lasted for nearly 2,000 years before Iohannes Kepler applied experimental methods to each of those disciplines in his Harmonices Mundi (we usually only refer to his Astronomy findings but Book III is all about music). – Nonetheless the foundational study of the Quadrivium is found in Plato’s Timaeus (which he is shown holding at the pinnacle – standing next to Aristotle who is holding the Nicomachean Ethics)

So with that, I request that you take some time to read this recent 10-page article by John McInnis of Dordt College who provides what I believe to be one of the best introductions for Classical Education enthusiasts to gain a clearer understanding of this Classical tradition which intertwines Music Ethics and Science. (MacInnis does contextualize how Augustine was adapting Classical educaiton for a Christian audience, and MacInnis himself is teaching at a Christian school, but the essence of Classical Philosophy is still fundamental)
Access his article here:
Now MacInnis does mention Boethius who is the most influential author in shaping Western Classical Education, I am submitting a link to a response I gave to a pop musician- regarding Boethius famous division of the 3 types of Musician (I was trying to condense a lot while feeling a little indignant ... but....
Finally I’d like to share this relevant podcast of Music Ethics & Cosmology from Krista Tippett’s “On Being” in which she interviews computer scientist Bernard Chazzelle who pretty much describes what I’ve just said here but with a little more mathematical precision.

Along with that, when I teach students instrumental music – I make sure they work on being able to sing what they read and practice every day to identify the tuning note (“A” 440Hz ) of standard Equal Temperment.  Then just like learning to read letters of the alphabet to form words...I instruct them that the notes on the page are not the actual music, but the instructions for how to play the music.  each note with its unique rhythmic value and pitch combines with those around it to form motivs (i.e. “words”) these motivs are combined to create phrases, and sentences where they can be turned around inverted, fragmented, augmented, and layered sometimes with the same contour but in different ranges, so that the same motiv or phrase can hold multiple meanings at the same time (or change meaning throughout its development.)  Bach Fugues are perfect for this kind of exercise....Then things get really fun if someone decided to set text to music – (This is where we behold the true genius of Mozart)

ANYWAY with that I will leave you with a late 1960s recording featuring Karl Richter playing the 1st movement of Bach’s 5th Brandenberg Concerto for Harpsichord, Flute, and Violin – After the presentation of the Ritornello theme (about the first 20 seconds) dig how the instruments chase each other around with fragments of that theme in the solo sections.

But if you, like me, want to see what is going on, you can check out this convenient “scrolling score”

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