A musical map of peace, part 4

And now let’s turn to the right and see what can be found on the other side of the map. “Found” is not really correct. This is at least as much about constructing as finding a map. Other map-makers or explorers would see a different landscape.

For me the center point of the map is AGON as I have pointed out. It stands for battle, trial of strength, contest.

Now it so happens that there is an other word that also means contest, a word that takes us right into the heart of music.


The etymology is, as most often, not unequivocal, but here is what I have found.

CONCERTARE: To contend, contest, dispute, Latin from “com”, with + “certare”  to contend, strive”.

In my mother tongue Hungarian this (and much else) is wonderfully clear. Piano concerto = zongora verseny = piano contest.

So here we are, right in the middle of our map, with TWO contests.  AGON (again) is a contest with more or less formal framework, with differing temperatures and styles (from boxing to figure skating) .

But what about the concert? What kind of contest is a piano concerto? Who wins and who loses, the pianist or the orchestra?

In the musical world that is one idiotic question! Or maybe philosophical. One can say that as a rule everybody wins. This is often the case with orchestral concerts. The conductor, all the musicians, the soloists and the choir win. And let’s not forget the audience.

So this seems to be a real win-win situation.

After meditating on the workings of music making I come to a rather stunning conclusion: What so many talk about, not least in business and also politics, namely win-win, is something that is found all over the place in music. We walk the talk, while most others talk the walk.

Music is a win-win domain, while so much of life (It’s a jungle out there)  is win-lose. Sports obviously. But much of life is conducted as sports, for example business and politics, two domains that shape our lives immensely.  (Or is it immensilly?)

I will get back to the win-win aspect of music, but now let’s look at the question of harmony.

Harmony is a word that belongs very much with music, and as we shall see harmony exists on many levels, from unconscious harmony to willed, intentional harmony.

I will postulate three kinds: subliminal, instrumental and human harmony.

Two of these corresponds with the kinds of music Greek music theorist Boethius talked about. (It could perhaps be said that all three correspond, but that is theoretical and I will leave it for now.)


The first kind of harmony I call Musica subliminalis.

Harmony  is about uniting in a group, a chord, a concord; several parts finding their place and function in a larger whole. I think that loose definition will do for now.

Interestingly, one has found that when people meet, a uniting / harmonizing / tuning process takes place on many levels, totally unconsciously.

Our movements follow our words closely, which is not so strange, but also the words of others. We fall into (or rise up to) imitative behavior very easily (seems it would be more difficult not to imitate each other).

There is something called emotional contagion where your smile tends to bring out “smiling” emotions in me, and vice versa.

Or your sadness…

brings out mine.

And so called “mirror neurons” are mirroring the behavior of others, as though we ourselves were acting.

Neuron, neuron, on the wall…

So, in many microcosmic ways we seem to be geared towards harmony, in the sense of doing things similarly, imitatively, in concord. Harmony is already in us as a base or foundation. One could perhaps say that musicality is already in us, in latent, potential form.


Harmony of the second kind we know well, even though we can know it even better. It is what is called music making. I say “called” because there are other kinds of music making. We’ll come to that soon.

Here things are no longer unconscious. We are playing and singing with musical intention, more or less practiced and polished technique, more or less flair. This is what Boethius calls Musica instrumentalis (which comprises both playing and singing).

As I said, this is a know domain and activity. However, by scrutinizing it closer we will see that there is much more to learn about it, not just for musicians but for everybody.

Actually, there are confusingly many things in the musical domain – composers, instruments, concerts, music, audiences, media (CD, LP, videos.), musicality, etc. The aspect I want to single out is music making, the act of playing or singing.

It we concentrate on music on the other hand, we know that there is a lot of aggressive music, both in classical and even more in modern popular music. But now I will look at playing and singing.

What can be said in a general way about music making? What are its basic elements?

Of course one needs TECHNIQUE. For some instruments, and some levels, this is the result of many years of hard work and practice. But most people have a voice and can sing. Joining a amateur choir is within reach of many many people.

One part of this technique, not so often mentioned or seen as central, is LISTENING. I would say that this is the entire half of music, the Yin side. It is very important for what is to come, and generally for life and humans. (We have one mouth but two ears, that in itself should be a pointer to the importance of listening.)

So, musicians listen to each other, to the music, to themselves. They are actually experts in listening, at least in music making. Nothing guarantees that they will be good listeners in conversation; other rules apply in that sphere. But in music making, we musicians must be in command of the technique of listening.

Music making is also radically wholistic. That word is much used, and often misused, but here it is clearly correct. It means that in music making the importance of the whole is supreme, and unquestioned.

In life we might be in many ways partisans, dissenters, rebels, disagreeing with everybody, but in music making we must be, and are, in agreement and harmony.

This is exemplified by the not uncommon case of an ensemble that has played together a LONG time, are fed up with each other, but still go on playing. They don’t like each other, arrive in separate taxis to the venue, but then they walk onstage and… what happens?

The play the same piece, in the same style, same tempo, same key! Of course! That’s how music making works. It is a protected peace zone.

One more aspect of music making, especially when it comes to more professional musicians, can be called breadth. A pro musician must to be able to play music from Bach to Bartok, at least. He cannot afford to have hobby horses, to love one or two composers at the expense of everybody else. His musicianship needs to be versatile and urbane.

Technique, listening, holistic attitude, versatility — these are four important keywords for music making. There are of course more, but these four capture a lot of the essence of music making. (Technique alone has many many subdivisions. Listening can be seen as technique, as well as holistic attitude and versatility. And one could write a whole chapter about handling silence.)

I think this is enough for now. Let’s put away our instruments and have a coffee break. In the next installment we will look at harmony of the third kind — the novel, exiting and very essential (for Venusian peace) phase of music making without instruments.

Part 5

A musical map of peace, part 3

Let us continue building our map.

We will remain on the left side, moving towards war in bloom. It would be nicer to talk about peace, harmony and music, but if peace is to have a chance we need to understand why the “competition” is so strong.

Let us start at our center point, AGON.

Let AGON stand for game, competition (as we find in sports). As I see it the impulse to compete (we don’t have to call it good or bad) is very basic to Man.

But of course it has its dialects, intensities and temperatures. It can stay within clearly defined and regulated bounds, or it can overflow into “hot”, emotionally loaded manifestations.

Think of a tennis match. The match is over and the contestants part. Now imagine that they still harbor hard feelings and anger. Then the match is not over. It has overflowed and infected life outside the framework of the game.

One could say that the energy has moved to the next stage.

AGON is delimited and “cool”. When it heats up, it gets personal, intense and moves to the stage of ANTAGONISM.

AGON >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> ANTAGONISM

If the two tennis players go even further in their enmity they might resort to actual physical (not just emotional and verbal) violence. This I call AGONY. Now we have a private war going on, size Small but still a war.

Difference between Agon and Antagonism: temperature, intensity and added emotional element.

Difference between Antagonism and Agony: actual physical violence.

Let’s zoom in on more nuances. AGON relates to (delimited) sports, contests, parlor games, card games, etc.

Regarding the emotional element it is hard to draw clear lines. Even in a card game or Monopoly we can become emotionally involved, angry or sad. But usually this wears off after a short time. We don’t go for weeks fuming about our loss.

A positive side of AGON relates to self-development. With sports and games we can train and improve our bodies, coordination, reactions and also our emotional control.

This can be in teams or by ourselves, with stronger or weaker elements of win-lose.

In more harmonious, inward-directed forms we can challenge ourselves to a duel, trying to win over ourselves, not others. These higher aspects of AGON are beautifully illustrated in the movie Peaceful Warrior.  As the title says, here war (agon) and peace are harmonized.

Now let’s look at the nitty-gritty sphere of ANTAGONISM.

Not all of us are into sports or games but I think hardly anyone is free from some kind of antagonistic impulses /  activities.

These range from ephemeral and lightweight to heavy, problematic and poisonous.

And here it becomes very important to not just point a finger but observe the three fingers pointing at us.

Outlook we have, often in excess, but inlook (English for introspection) is just as much needed. At the root of ANTAGONISM I see these impulses:

  • I want me to be right and you to be wrong
  • I want to be better / stronger / richer / more beautiful than you
  • I want to be in control, and you to be controlled
  • I want 100 times as many Facebook friends and “likes” as you have (modern variant)

Let’s be radically honest and admit that it can be wonderful to be ADMIRED, RIGHT,  the BEST, the most BEAUTIFUL. Getting lots of praise and “likes” can create a wonderfully warm feeling in our breast.

But this is not = the antagonistic impulse. The latter wants to see someone lose, and is much more concerned with seeming than being.

Lavish praise does not make us good –quite apart from the fact that praise from some people carry no weight at all. Winning an argument does not make us right — even though we “won” this particular arguing match against a particular (perhaps very illogical) opponent.

Still we allow ourselves on some level to feel like KINGS under such circumstances. Other parts of us know better, rather thinking ourselves beggars for being so easily flattered. But the impulse to be king is usually stronger than the insight of begging.

So we fight, in true antagonistic fashion, for these prices, medals and awards, even though deep down we know that they are not gold but tin, not substantial but mere image, no true adventures but cheap thrills.

What does antagonism look like in real life? Here are some examples.

  • quarreling about who’s fault something is
  • debating religious / philosophical / political / etc. questions
  • trying to prove that you have been unjustly treated
  • trying to prove hos silly and credulous other people are (popular with “skeptics”)

“Quarrel”, “debate” and “proof” are important keywords. Generally, we find ANTAGONISM in all situations where the impulses mentioned above enter.

ANTAGONISM can be of shorter or longer duration. Family feuds can go on for generations, while a heated quarrel fires up, fizzles and dies down after some hours, maybe days.

From the more intense forms of ANTAGONISM we move towards AGONY and war in bloom.

However, war needn’t have emotional components. It can also be a simple, cheap case of stealing.

“I want what you have. But since it doesn’t look good in these modern times to just take it away from you, I will find or fabricate some crime on your side which will serve as motive for me to declare war on you, you terrorist, you!”

So far the left, dark side. In the next part we will finally look at the other, brighter side of our map.

Part 4

A musical map of peace, part 2

In my first text about a peace map I wrote  basically this:

Between a “black” region of war and a “white” region of peace we have a grey area that needs to be explored better.

We can regard the whole thing as a garden with flowers in bloom and seeds not yet in bloom. (These seeds might never bloom, just remain inactive.)

War in bloom

What is usually called war I call “war in bloom”.  As to peace in bloom, let us for the time being regard it as an unknown quantity/ quality.

Let’s focus in the middle, grey region. What do we have there?

That is no easy question. What is the middle point between war and peace? Is there even such a point? Is this perhaps mainly and abstract, semantic question?

My aim is to speak in as practical terms as possible. Quite obviously this map needs to be a map of human impulses and tendencies. We must address the question “what impulses lie behind war?”.

One could say that war is an activity while peace is a state. That would make peace a passive, thus potentially uninteresting and boring phenomenon. This passive aspect of peace I believe is an important reason for the disinterest (to be perfectly honest) many people hold for peace.

“If peace is when nothing much happens, why should we work for it, why concern ourselves with “nothing much”…?

But it need not be that way. Peace can be just as much activity as war. However, we don’t have as good understanding of peace-as-action as war-as-action.

So let us look at that middle point. My suggestion is that we write AGON in the middle between war and peace-

WAR ————–AGON—————– PEACE

What is agon then? A greek word for contest and competition. In ancient Greece, agons were contests held during public festivals. Our modern Olympics are modeled on these contests.

I will use the word basically as meaning competition/ struggle, and regard is as a neutral point. (Obviously it is relevant to sports.)

Let us now build the left part of our map. What other stations can we find between agon and war (in bloom)?

I suggest the next step be antagonism: anti (against) plus agōnizesthai (to struggle, from agōn). In antagonism we don’t just compete in a match, we are opponents, adversaries, even enemies. We are one step closer to war in bloom.

Our map (left side) now looks like this:


I suggest we insert one more phase before war, namely agony. Agony already hurts, already bleeds. We are moving more and more into the red area. Just as with a clipping microphone distortion sets in.

I am for now content with the left side of the map, which looks like this:


So, from the neutral central point of agon, found in sports, we move into more and more hostile, combative, belligerent energies.

In part 3 we will look more closely at these three stations. I believe important insights about peace and peace work can be discovered there.

Part 3

A musical map of peace, part 1

We live in map-crazy times.

Our cars communicate with satellites (GPS), as do our mobile phones. The Google Crusade is on, even into our private backyard, in the holy name of the Map. It has become very easy (for us and those who want to keep track of us) to tell the coordinates of our whereabouts.

This geographical mapping is one side of the coin. The other, non-geographical side is crazy in another way. In an empty way.

There is a lack of “maps” in many important areas. By map I mean a way to understand connections, relations, gradations, differences and similarities.

This seems to be the case with peace. I am sure that there has been brilliant books written about peace, but book brilliance is not enough. I am now concerned with more general understanding by the man and women in the street. They nowadays know exactly how to find and reach that hip bar on the other side of town, but their picture of peace and how to get there is extremely vague, if not non-existent.

So our physical orientation is matched in a weird way by our mental and philosophical non-orientation. Wouldn’t it be much better and more sound the other way around…?

Like this: Hardly anybody finds the hip bar, but everybody has a good orientation about the prerequisites of peace. And, when we finally find the bar, it will be so much more fun since we have searched for it a REALLY LONG TIME.

But if a bomb kills us meanwhile… nada, neither bar nor peace.

My own map or model of peace is a work in progress. Of course with such maps there is no standard as there is with physical maps. My map will not be the map of another peacenik or researcher.

An important point for me is that the map should be practical, not just describe peace but also create it. And since we ourselves create peace and war this is a map of ourselves, with our harmonious and disharmonious tendencies.

I will take this in small pieces, one step at a time. Let’s start with putting peace in one corner and war in the other.

WAR —————————————- PEACE

There is a large space between war and peace. Obviously peace doesn’t just suddenly erupt into war, and war doesn’t just erupt into peace (even though one could wish it would). There are intermediate stages

So what is in the middle, between the extremes? Let’s think in colors and imagine war as black and peace as white (the white dove).

We could bring in the whole rainbow here, but for now let’s think in black and white.

What we see then is that the middle region needs to be grey, neither black nor white. A grey zone, meaning both a color and also an area of uncertain legitimacy, maybe good, maybe bad, probably a bit suspect.

WAR——————grey zone——————- PEACE

This map can be thought of as a garden. Think botany, flowers and seeds. In the outskirts of the garden we have flowers, things in bloom, while in the middle we have seeds, not yet flowers but flower embryos.

So, what we usually call war I call war in bloom. Manifest, physical, realized and not just potential war,  or  just”tensions”. (Tensions I see as grey and put in the middle zone.)

This can be the first part of the mapping process. To be continued. (As to the “musical map”, we will come to that.)

Part 2