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Fixation

July 30, 2009

The Green Day show was fantastic.  Beyond amazing.  I wrote about it over at Nothing Wrong with Me, if you feel like clickity-popping over there.

Still riding high on the experience, I started to read Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks today.  Parts of it are interesting and parts of it read like a stodgy medical journal, complete with references to brain functions I didn’t know existed.  Unless you know a lot about seizures and brain chemistry, it’s probably better to skim the book than closely read it.  At times I could feel my own brain cells grinding their gears.

The really fascinating parts of the book are the stories of people Mr. Sacks has met over the course of his research.  Several of them describe sudden inexplicable longings to hear piano music, which then led to learning piano and composing pieces on their own.  One man had it happen after he was hit by lightning, but others were hit by nothing more than inspiration.  They talked of hearing entire pieces of music in their minds even before they knew how to write it.  It was a beautiful and all-consuming muse.

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered why all those people had fallen in love with the piano.  Why didn’t anyone start playing guitar?  Or, if they were intent on classic music, violin?  What about oboe?  Maybe it’s my love of all things riff-soaked talking, but it seems weird that nearly everyone would fixate on the same plain instrument.  Pianos reproduce tones with a clear resonance, making them easy to recognize.  It also makes them a bit boring.  Hitting a key will give you the exact same note every time until the piano goes out of tune.  Even with the thousands of combinations possible within the range of the keyboard, wouldn’t you want a little more variation?  Guitars can sound like everything from vibrating steel to a person crying.  It certainly seems more interesting.

To my mind, focusing on piano is almost cruel.  These people have an astounding gift that can only be used in a fraction of the musical spectrum.  Given the choice, I’d rather be an amatuer dabbling in different styles than a pro stuck with one.  Half the beauty of loving music is sifting through possibilities.  The right one is like magic.

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