Musings: Opposition in All Things

I’ve been thinking a lot recently on or about contrasts. Without contrast–or opposites–it is difficult to get your point across. In paintings, it is oftentimes the dark segments that cause the lighter segments to “pop” visually. In literature, it is the force against which the hero must fight –  for us to truly believe her success in the end.

And so it is with music. If all is bland, if all is repetitive, or if the musical line just meanders, where is the enjoyment? It is in opposition that light and darkness are revealed and the power of a piece is exposed.

I remember being a music major sitting in theory class one morning and my professor came in with great energy. He posed the following question with a mysterious look on his face: “Class, which of all the notes is the most powerful?”

We puzzled on that for some time. One student daringly said, “F-sharp.” The professor’s wry little smile got even bigger. “No.” Another class member called out, “E-flat?” The professor gave his head a little shake and waited. But we were stumped. He finally grinned, but spoke quietly. “Silence,” he said. “Silence is the most potent note. It makes all the others stand out.”

Pretty profound, I thought at the time. And that class interchange has remained with me through the years. Now when I go to compose, I ponder that question of “Class, which of all the notes is most powerful?” And as I write I am continually seeking the best, most fluid balance of opposition. Of light and dark. Of silence and sound. Because without those contrasts,  all becomes milk-toast-bland.

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