Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, before the time of recorded history, even before prerecorded history, and long before the birth of music, before anyone knew anything about music, there lived a caveman named Thor.
One day Thor was walking around in the forest with nothing to do and stumbled upon a cave with something he had had never seen nor could have imagined. There in the dark shadow and deep silence stood an amazing… awesome… giant… nine-foot… Steinway grand piano.
To make a long story short, Thor sat down at the bench and pushed a key. Out of the stillness of the cave popped a beautiful tone. It floated along, shimmered and sparkled for a while, and then slowly faded back into the silence and stillness of the cave. Thor was enraptured. He hit the key again. What a sweet, wonderful, gorgeous, lush, sound!
Now, of course, Thor knew nothing about music and had no musical skill as we now define it. But Thor did have the ability to push on some keys, and he was instantly captivated. The musical elements of melody, rhythm, dynamic variation, harmony and articulation were revealed to him. He courted them and fell in love with them. He played a high note that sang clear and crisp and echoed through the silence of the cave. He played a low note that rumbled and disappeared into the dark.
He began to use the many elements that sound and silence had to offer. He played short notes, little staccatos that chirped and danced. He played long notes that filled the cave. He played two or three notes at a time, then bunches of notes at a time. He used his fingers, as well as his knuckles and arms, to depress the keys.
The sounds blended, crunched and rumbled. He played loud, with a fullness that thundered, and then even louder, with a forcefulness that shook the air. His body became involved as he jumped and swayed. He allowed the space to have its fun. He played softly, sweetly, mildly, gently, tenderly, and delicately; sometimes hardly even touching the keys which, in turn, spoke to him from what seemed to be a great distance. He played fast sparkling tones and slow mellow tones. He touched keys and played rhythms at random. His emotion poured into the keys and into the air.
The hypnotic repetitions carried him even more deeply into his reverie. He was totally involved and enthralled with the experience of the sound and with the power of the silence between the sounds. His awareness was engulfed and he was carried away, floating six inches above the floor of the cave in a bubble of joy.
He returned to the cave day after day and explored the many opportunities that these musical elements offered. Though Thor knew nothing about music, he was having the time of his life.
And that was the way music was born.
Outside the cave, people nearby were amazed by the sounds that Thor sent flying into the air and were drawn to the source of the sounds. They entered the cave, watched and listened. The pops and booms came at them, both sweet and strong. The different pitches followed each other on a roller coaster of sound and silence, through time and space, building up right into their faces, then disappearing behind them into the unseen horizon.
Everyone was caught up in bubbles of joy . . . until one of Thor’s friends came to his senses –– pop! –– and cried out, without thinking, “Hey, Thor, that’s really great, but play something!”
“Yeah, Thor,” cried another, “play some folk music!”
“Play some classical music,” said another in his British accent. “It’s more sophisticated.”
The comments continued. “No, classical is square. Play some jazz. Jazz is cool!” “Heavy metal, man, we can feel that in our bones.” “How about some rock ‘n’ roll? You can dance to rock ‘n’ roll.” “Play some rap and hip hop. That’s the happening thing.” “Play the blues. Blues is the root of all American music!” “But country music comes from the heart.” “No! No! Play some gospel. Gospel comes from the soul.”
People were shouting left and right, up and down, one on top of the other. A cacophony of opinions filled the room. It went on for hours, days, weeks and months . . . it went on for years, decades and centuries. It went on for millennia, right up to today, and will into the future.
And so the music critic was born.
But Thor didn’t care about the music critics. He was having the time of his life. And Thor and all of his joyful musical elements lived happily ever after in every flavor and style . . . even among the music critics.
Excerpted from “Let Your Music Soar” by Corky Siegel and Peter Krammer. Illustrations by Holly Siegel. ($19.95 Nova Vista Publishing.) Available soon in bookstores and on Amazon.com.
Corky Siegel is the founder of the Siegel-Schwall and Chamber Blues bands.