How I learned to stop worrying and love the B major scale
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I have a confession to make: I’m not a journalism major.
I am actually a music major. As a musician, it’s my job to develop my artistic and intellectual capacity to the highest degree. I take this pretty seriously, as it’s likely the only real job I’ll ever have.
I met some exchange students last year who were very excited to meet an American musician. After we introduced ourselves, they proceeded to ask these important musical questions:
Did I live in my car? Did I do drugs? Did I know that I look like John Lennon? Could I play any Beatles songs on the guitar? What did I mean, I couldn’t play the guitar?
They had this idea that being a music major consisted of listening to Pink Floyd and messing around with electric guitars all day. But that’s far from true. Sometimes I also mess around with synthesizers.
OK, OK, I’m just kidding. Studying music is actually pretty tough. It requires long periods of intense focus and self-correction, the goal of which is to develop and nurture skills that will continue to serve you past the end of the current term, possibly for the rest of your life.
It sounds insane, doesn’t it? In fact, if there is something more antithetical to the American higher-education system, I cannot think of what it is.
The other tough thing about the music department is we have to learn the B major scale, which is the most difficult of all musical scales. Some music students even decide to take a fifth year to give themselves enough time to prepare for the dreaded Culminating B Major Scale Playing Test, which is required for graduation.
As a musician, I want to encourage everyone to see a lot of live music because it’s a great way to experience the arts and learn more about proper audience etiquette. After attending many performances, you start to grasp the social ebb and flow of each situation.
The most important part of etiquette is learning the proper post-concert response.
In classical music, the appropriate response might be something to the effect of, “I found that piece quite engaging, particularly the novel approach to harmonic development.”
In jazz music, on the other hand, it might be something more like “[redacted] That [redacted]’s solo was totally [redacted] hip, man.”
For rock music, you generally don’t need to worry, because whoever you’re standing next to is too busy hitting on the bass player’s sister.
So, now you want to know what kind of a musician I am, don’t you? Well, you’re right on. The first thing I do when meeting a musician or artist is ask them what kind they are because I tend to feel more secure when everything’s all neatly sorted inside my mind. That way I never have to challenge my perceptions of what art is.
Since you asked, I am a composer. But not just any kind of composer; I am a member of an elite order: the overly intellectual composers.
The main difference between composers versus overly intellectual composers is that while composers focus on writing music, overly intellectual composers mainly focus on taking themselves way too seriously. We do also write music on occasion when we have to.
Overly intellectual composers are the most hated and feared of all types of musicians, which, considering that we would prefer to spend every waking moment alone in our windowless composer-caves, immersed in pseudo-gnostic processes of sonic alchemy and subsisting on a diet of Mountain Dew and Hot Pockets, actually works out pretty well for us.
We are the sort of people who can have animated, lengthy and entirely serious conversations about the ramifications of notating a chord as C major versus C major seventh. You don’t even want to hear about what happens when we start talking about thematic development.
In fact, sometimes overly intellectual composers take things so seriously that there are even thoughts of violence. One famous bebop trumpet player actually shot another musician in an argument over how to notate a specific chord.
So generally it’s best for us to stay inside, away from the world. But every once in awhile, we can be persuaded, generally through the threat of being ejected from Eastern, to give a concert or play a gig. This is when we show our true colors.
At a gig, a normal musician might introduce a piece by saying something like: “Hi everyone, thanks for coming out. I wrote this song when my grandmother died. It uses the melody from a lullaby she used to sing to me.”
That’s pretty good, but it’s not enough for us overly intellectual composers. When we introduce a piece, you’re more likely to hear something like this:
“Good evening. This piece is composed in 7/13 time and bases its melodic structure upon the intersection of 17th-century Rosicrucian ideals and a Sanskrit transliteration of the Book of Ezekiel. The musical material consists entirely of dissonant chords played on out-of-tune violins, and the piece is approximately 32 minutes long. I am passing around stacks of Document A, which elucidates the harmonic structure of the seventh melodic variation, which occurs during …” and on, and on.
Generally, by the time we get to Document B, the audience has either gone home or converged upon the stage in a keening mass of torches and pitchforks, which, aside from the threat of imminent stabbing and burning, tends to make for a distracting performance environment.
So you can see where we overly intellectual composers do pretty well in terms of dating. I am kidding, of course. Composers, just like all species of fungi, reproduce asexually.
Writing music is pretty tough, which is why we’re so cranky all the time. It’s bad enough trying to write something in C major, and by the time you add in all the black keys, it’s a mess.
Sometimes it gets so bad that we start feeling like Don Music, the zany composer character from “Sesame Street” who could never get his song to end on the right note and always had to ask Kermit for help.
Don Music’s trademark behavior was that, whenever he got musically stumped, he would repeatedly bang his head on the piano in frustration. This was supposed to be funny, but it’s not. Thousands of composers sustain piano-top injuries from frustrated head-banging every year.
Now I want to talk a little bit about money. People can’t seem to decide whether musicians are in it for the money or the music. I will admit that it’s a tough question, especially if you’ve heard any of the top 40s hit singles.
But we musicians do not do music because we enjoy making money. We do it because we enjoy being constantly degraded, ignored, underappreciated and taken advantage of. Or, wait—maybe it’s that we enjoy making music. I get those two mixed up, sometimes.
Anyhow, all we want is for you to hear our music. And if you don’t want to pay ten dollars for our album, please feel free to illegally download it. It’s not as if you’re blatantly stealing from musicians and producers, insulting the institution of music making, eroding appreciation of the arts, retroactively cheapening the value of all music ever created and discouraging young artists from continuing to create.
If that were true, there’d be absolutely no way to justify downloading. Thankfully, it’s not.
Really. We’d rather you hear it.
Views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of The Easterner.