Personal Evolution on the Language of Music

This is a thought on the language of music and how my personal vocabulary has changed since working with Cirque and working in China.

I don’t know if this would qualify as a “paradigm shift”, but I had an eye opener today. I had a friend send me a video of a music performance. It’s a group that plays a style of music I used to play. And when I watched it, it was like a foreign language to me. Like something distant I recognized just faintly. And this was a style of music I played for many years.

Was it a musical style, or a musical language? I had never thought of music being a language before. I’ve always thought of it as notes, and then just different styles overlayed on the top of it. Maybe this attitude came from working in Southern California for so many years pumping out soundtrack after soundtrack. I would get an “order” for a certain style and *boom* – there’s your soundtrack.

Last year I started studying jazz again. My first instruction from my mentor was to think of jazz as a language, and to learn to speak that language. This was a different concept for me, but it has really helped my thought process.

Also in the last couple years I have been surrounded by World Music. I have been living in China for more than a year working on music with Cirque Du Soleil; and also surrounded by new music influences from Europe, South America and the Middle East.

I didn’t really realize until today how much of an influence it has had on my thought processes towards music. My arsenal of ideas is much wider now. That could be a good thing or bad thing depending on the application. But on a personal level it’s an experience I could not buy at any price. 

It’s fairly common for my musician friends here in China to make a recording for me to listen to, because they know I like hearing new things. And I’m very appreciate for that.

The curse of all this? I’ve heard it said for instance that once you master jazz, then other more common musical languages are unsatisfying. And the term “jazz doesn’t pay the bills” is heard a LOT in music circles.

If this post isn’t clear, let me put it like this. My experience of watching the music I used to play and not really recognizing it, would be like being in another country speaking a new language, and over time not understanding your native tongue.

But to have this experience in the language of music; well….that was very strange for me. Jury is out on whether that’s a good thing or not – but I’m guessing that it’s a good sign for my future work.

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