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View Full Version : Who's got rhythm?


Margaret McGhee
March 19th, 2006, 10:07 AM
A thread last week got me thinking about rhythm and I've had some additional thoughts that I'm about to subject you to. ;)

Classical Western (European) music seems to emphasize harmonic structure more than rhythm - although some of the best of this music seems to derive from composers like Chopan and Mozart, who I find far more rhythmically endowed than say Bach or Beethoven. I don't know much about classical music but it seems that I need to go East or South from Europe to find the more interesting composers, rhythmically. Like Rimsky-Korsakoff for example, whose Procession of the Sardor or Scheherazade, are of course, amazing rhythmic treats. Some Spainish composers seem to have more rhythmic complexity in their music as well but I can't think of any names right now. Maybe it's just me but I find Wagner almost empty of rhythm. Or, maybe I'm just not aware of all his best music. I have a really hard time enjoying opera which is probabaly my loss.

I wonder if rhythm and tone excite different areas of the brain, and that this is universal, not cultural. To me, harmony seems awe inspiring. Some of those gospel tunes with three and four part harmony can send shivers down my spine. I love playing and singing some of those but when I think about it I see that I do like the more rhythmic southern gospel tunes best. Going back to the Middle Ages, multi-voice harmony (and huge pipe organs) would seem useful for a wealthy and politically connected church that wanted to impress its followers with its great power and majesty - as its cathedrals were meant to do. An institution that can make you feel such awe surely must be obeyed - and payed. I think my Catholic upbringing is showing.

OTOH rhythm makes my body want to move with the music, no matter what I'm thinking about. I wonder if that mysterious power to move us (literally) did not seem threatening to those who saw the need for total submission before a patriarchal God. In that way perhaps, Western music developed to emphasize harmony rather than rhythm.

I know in the fifties when I was a young teenager in Texas we were warned against the evil dangers of listening and dancing to Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly and those white musicians who did "Negro" music. Of course, we did it anyway - and the fact that our parents were threatened by this made it that much more exciting.

I think that we're all designed to respond to rhythm, no matter what part of the world it comes from. Harmony and tone styles and even scales and intervals however, are associated with different parts of the world and are not as universal. I think any of us, especially when exposed to rhythm at a young age, will develop a love for rhythmic music, dancing and speaking rhythmically - and we may even tend to move a bit differently as we're walking down the street.

As a treat for subjecting yourself again to my wierd ideas, here is a really cool video for you to watch that shows some amazing rhythm, although it's almost totally limited to the upper body in this case. A white guy, wouldn't you know? :rolleyes: I hope you enjoy it.


Chris Bliss the Juggler (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4776181634656145640) Note: For the best effect, pause the video for a while so the video packets can catch up with the audio and they play exactly in sync.