Reading Musically

Tuesday nights are Capriccio Columbus rehearsals. One of the things I was reminded of once again was how much goes into “reading” and singing even a simple piece of music. One is paying attention to notes, pitches, tempos, dynamics and other markings in the printed music. Then there is that person up front waving the stick to beat time and communicating in a variety of ways his or her wishes (we have two directors, Larry and Karrie). There is your section–you want to blend with them so that all the voices are one and none stands out. There are the other sections with whom you want to harmonize. And there is that accompanist, or in some cases the orchestra.

Then there are the words we are singing and the mood they evoke–loving, tender, playful, jubilant, worshipful, and dancing are some of the descriptions of moods in the pieces we are currently rehearse them. To sing them with meaning that connects with the audience means grasping, and being grasped by that mood. There is “syllabic stress”– which syllables get the emphasis. Then there are languages–English, French, Spanish, and Latin are just some of those in which we’ve sung.

It is a wonderful thing when all these elements come together, especially at a concert! I’m always amazed with the process that begins with a “read through” where I hit maybe 20% of the notes, am learning the words, head buried in the score while the director tries to get our attention. With practice and rehearsals, it starts making sense as you learn the rhythms, the dynamics, and the “mood” of the piece as you pay attention to the mysterious interweave of words and music.

All this makes me wonder if there is more to reading a book, or any piece of writing, than just scanning and registering in one’s brain the sequence of words on the page, and maybe comprehending the basic sense of the sentence and if the skills one uses to bring so many different things together in reading a piece of music can also apply to reading a piece of literature or non-fiction. Might we not simultaneously be aware of character development, imagery, plot turns, allusions, the mood evoked in a work, figures of speech. In non-fiction, there is the exposition of an idea, the arguments for a thesis but also the use of wit, irony, sarcasm, humor, appeals to authority.

Reading and singing a piece of music demands one’s total attention. This makes me wonder whether reading a book well might also call for that kind of attention if one is to read on the various levels simultaneously that a well-written piece of writing demands. (I also recognize that there are “junk novels” and fun reads that may not require such attention). Does it even involve re-reading? I know that some of the great books I’ve loved disclose new depths with each reading.

Have you had the experience of reading richly and deeply? What book were you reading? What was that like for you?

One thought on “Reading Musically

  1. Pingback: Reading as Art? « Bob on Books

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