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

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