Saturday, July 11, 2009

Movement, Music and Musicality

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown: – John Keats

Isn’t it . . .
    interesting that bird-song has charmed the hearts of explorers the world over?

    sensational how people are stirred to dance when they hear lively music?

    touching how music can arouse memories of past events otherwise long forgotten?

    profound that some melodies, still popular today, were played so long ago their origins have been forgotten?

    curious how some forms of music can affect the function of the brain?

    remarkable that nations burst into song as a symbol of solidarity in moments of triumph or disaster?

    intriguing that all over the globe, mothers murmur, coo and sing to their newborn children who, at only a few days old, will invariably respond by listening or vocalising?

An ancient practice

Archaeological remains of flute-like instruments suggest that music must have been known and practiced as far back as 10,000 BC.

The fragmentary physical remains of musicianship represent a mere trace of the significance that music may have played in the lives of the people of those Palaeolithic times. One can only surmise that singing would also have been a component of that music. Perhaps it may well have been customary thousands of years before that era.

Music has an amazing power to bring people together. Legend tells us that Apollo initiated the earliest festivals of music and poetry around 6
th century BC. Cultural elements of these arts became part of the festivity of the Pythian Games.

Dancing and music have been major components of cultures from time immemorial. Yet only in
recent years has musicality been considered to be of key importance to communication and to human development.

We live in an environment that’s steeped in rhythm and movement. If all musical devices including radio, TV, CD and DVD drives, and the Internet were mysteriously to cease to function, the rhythmical component of our day-to-day lives would still make a significant contribution to the musicality of the environment we are in.

Just take a walk to the corner shop and listen to the rhythm and timbre of the sound of your footstep. Or lie still in a quiet room and sense the dull throb of your heartbeat. You become aware of the leisurely tempo of your own sibilant breathing.

It may be you overhear a conversation between neighbours in the street outside, voices too faint for you to make out the words. The patterns in their speech are familiar. You may even recognise a voice from its rhythm and pitch. A bird utters its warbling chronicle from a distant perch. You recognise the call of a songthrush.

New Zealand Emeritus Professor

In today's Radio NZ interview by Gordon Harcourt, New Zealander Colwyn Trevarthen, child psychologist and Emeritus Professor at Edinburgh University, explains the recent and not so recent researches on the mother and child relationship.

He tells of the major contribution brought to that relationship through the musicality of vocal interaction. The endearing conversation of parent and baby is a musical symphony. Babies are very attentive to the ritual of these interactions and take part by actively contributing through their own movement and vocalisation. He talks of recent studies that show an exact similarity of mother and baby communication to jazz music, in terms of the structural dynamics of rhythm and pitch.

Bridging the communication gap, well known in the study of autistic conditions, is made possible through music. Trevarthen introduces, through example, how communication with an autistic child can be initiated through the skilled use of rhythm.

Complexity in motion

Trevarthen describes the motion of the human body as polyrhythmic.
It is complex owing to the
Dancerability to stand on two feet with independent movement of legs, arms and hands.

He likens the complexity of the extravagant gestures of the human body to the structure of human thought.

People are as individual in the way they move as they are in the way they use speech patterns to communicate. Movement and dance, speech and speech patterns all contribute to a musicality that’s unique to the human form.

His idea on the origin of language, through the musicality of human interaction, is one that challenges traditional theories of the origin of speech.

The 34 minute interview was broadcast today, Saturday, 11 July 2009.

A Green Pen Society contribution

Ngā mihi nui – Best wishes


V Yonkers said...

Ken, you'd be interested in a recent episode of one of my favorite programs, Nova. The link above gives both the transcript and additional information about musicality. What was especially interesting was the part about those who lack musicality.

I would take exception to your comment about only recently looking at the importance of musicality. Remember that up until the industrial revolution, music was a key to "privileged" society and played an important role in the governing powers. Likewise, music as a tool for communication has always been important in Latin American, Asian, and African nations as both a learning tool and as a means to pass down social norms and history. Even in English speaking countries, the nursery rhyme plays an important role in language and cultural development.

It is only in the scientific community that this is a new area for research.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Virginia!

Thank you for the link to Oliver Sacks – aren’t his studies fascinating! His work on autism affirms my belief that it is only in recent years that musicality has been recognised by society as a therapy for such conditions of communication.

You mention music and musicality in your exception. Of course, they are not the same thing. Musicality embraces rhythm, pattern and motion as well as all the nuances of music. I agree that music and also poetry have been revered in high culture in societies across the world for centuries. It was embraced as a component of culture and of entertainment as you mentioned.

But its true recognition as being important is well shown in how its associated arts, such as dancing, were not encouraged by society to the extent that Mathematics and Science were as core subjects in education. Ken Robinson brings this very point to the fore in his speech.

What I attempted to bring to the post was an awareness that musicality has only recently been considered as being important to the development of the individual, especially the development of an individual’s communication skills.

Catchya later