Music – where does it come from?

I just found a new chord sequence on the piano. Well, new for me. I am sure I must have heard it in some famous records, but I can’t quite dredge from my memory what they might be. But I found my fingers – at least six of them simultaneously – creating this rather rich progression, and that I further could embellish it with approximately the right notes from higher up the keyboard and it still sounded great. Just like real music, in fact. Fast or slow, low or high, with key changes, it all worked. I could have started singing and added another dimension to it, but just the basic sequence contained a world of melancholy, resignation, tension, resolution and elation. Or something like that. The point being that it came from nowhere, and that pulling it out from all the other nondescript things I was playing was an act of curation rather than the romantic notion of creation. Turning it into a full piece of music would be a case of building upon it, spinning some lyrics that fitted the images that the sequence conjured up in my head, and maybe mechanically and calculatedly applying a structure of verse, pre-chorus, chorus… middle eight…. etc. The composition could be given to a real performer who would, like an actor, put him/herself into character and emote their way through it. That would be one way of doing it. Presumably it could be done differently: starting with a great phrase in the lyrics, an interesting rhythm, an unusual sound, or with nothing but the objective of creating a song to fit a scene in a film or as an entry for an international televised song competition.

Just as with books or films, enjoyment of music requires some suspension of disbelief on the part of the ‘consumer’. They have to look past their knowledge of the behind-the-scenes stuff and believe that it was created spontaneously by an individual or group of gifted people, or even to believe that it emerged fully-formed without human agency. Surprisingly, it seems that people are able to do this, even if they are music creators themselves.

Recently, I went to see a well-known rock superstar in concert. Well, more of a ‘polymath’ superstar. He is well known as having a strong work ethic, and perhaps this spoiled my enjoyment of the show. I found myself watching and listening to his piano playing and thinking how simple it was, and perhaps how similar to my own doodling on the keyboard. I then considered how the dour, brooding songs were the result of hundreds of hours of ‘work ethic’ and that, even then, not much happened in them. Suddenly they didn’t seem so great…

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