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So what's "musical"?

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#16 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 26 January 2002 - 12:11 AM

Yvonne - here's the literal definition fromt he dictionary: a fluctuation of tempo within a musical phrase often against a rhythmically steady accompaniment

Here's an example of it - say a dancer is doing something that would usually be done at a steady tempo (like maybe the passes in the Raymonda variation) and opts to vary the tempo slightly - do one very slow and speed up another to compensate. That's rubato.

Did that help?

#17 Michael


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Posted 26 January 2002 - 11:01 AM

You could distill the "Watch Allegra Kent" answer into: "What's musical? I know it when I see it."

Also, at the risk of being a obscure, a strong argument can be made that what is most "music" is precisely what most evades verbal definition -- that the essence of "musicality" is the thing which most refuses to be pinned down in words. By virtue of that fact alone, it is most what is worthy of being irreducibly called "music". You can't catch the movement in the stream as it flows by, you will be left with a handful of water, not the flow.

#18 Paul Parish

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Posted 10 March 2002 - 03:50 AM

"Watch Allegra Kent" may have been a variant of "Listen to Elisabeth Schumann sing Lieder," which Schnabel used to say to his students...

Kent WAS – from many accounts still IS—a hauntingly musical dancer… the excerpts of her dancing Agon, and especially Symphony in C, shown on the “Dancing for Balanchine” video make those roles unmisunderstandable… When the big tune wells up in Symphony in C, and she dives into that adagio arabesque turn, a big emotion wells up in me; I always cry when I watch it.

Very complex things like musicality are much easier to illustrate by example than to define --

Musicality and timing are almost the same thing.. dancers, singers, pianists who have a deep understanding of the kind of music they’re performing tend to know where to elide and where to separate, where to slide in early and where to stretch the phrase out long. The kind of rubato you’d use for Debussy (Claire de Lune is MARKED “tempo rubato”) is different from that you’d use for, say, the Rosenkavalier Waltz (“Mit mir”), and that’s way different from the kind you’d use for “Mack the Knife” (“The cement’s just for the weight, dear”).

Balanchine’s leotard ballets all have a lot of African-derived steps – he’d worked with Katherine Dunham’s company on Cabin in the Sky (not to mention the Nicholas Brothers in Babes in Arms) and in fact, there’s lots of jazz, according to Marie Jeanne, in Concerto Barocco. When I learned Lindy hop, which is vernacular jazz dancing, I found my teachers, even in the elementary classes, showing us how to find the front of the beat and hte back of hte beat, since so much of the pleasure in Lindy is in the "play" –

“Play” has always been a highly prized feature of the styles of the best Lindy dancers, from Shorty George on, since they’re improvising as they go and may well reshape the whole curve of a familiar step to stretch it onto a saxophone phrase – that’s what makes your partner laugh and the crowd go wild…

The most musical dancer in hte jazz world may be Dawn Hampton, who was playing saxophone in the house band at the Savoy Ballroom back in the 50's and is thus a dancer now of a certain age, but she still wins the Lindy hop "interpretive" championships pretty much all the time, for the authority and wit of the steps she chooses to do, the things she makes you hear in the music, and hte way she plays with the onslaught and the aftertaste of the phrasing are just revelations....

All this comes to mind in thinking of Kyra Nichols’s playing with the end of the beat…. I love the way she dances. She was for a long time kind of a tomboy with fastidious accuracy and wonderful feet -- It's been great to see her temperament come into bloom. It's such a pleasure to me to see her phrasing like a jazz dancer (though re Mozartiana, I still think only Farrell's Preghiera really understands what’s going on in the music there – I've watched her performance on that video many times, and only grow more admiring -- she's really penetrated to the heart of the music. Mozart was setting a prayer, a devotion to the body of Christ, and though it’s just strings playing in Mozartiana, there are words to that tune, written by Thomas Aquinas – and that particular melody is a setting of the word death, the sentence is about the uncertain passage from this world into the next – and the way Farrell took those piques – as she said in her book, like stepping from steeple to steeple -- made me feel like shouting "Holy" – my kinesthetic identification was it was like walking in a river, against running water, that she was crossing over into Jordan and as she pulled in from arabesque into passe, she dramatized the precariousness of thie journey into the next life each step was like an act of faith….. of course, Farrell and Balanchine shared this kind of religious feeling, which I think is the key to the role, and other dancers who don’t have it may execute the steps very well, and keep in some harmony with the music, but not be really MUSICAL unless they feel the life-and-death importance of the the IDEA expressed in the music.)

[ March 10, 2002, 03:54 AM: Message edited by: Paul Parish ]

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