Facing the Creation and Resolution of Dissonance; In Music and In Life

  • Author:Angie Arsenault

Songbirds, I would like to share with you an excerpt from one of my current readings: it is an excellent book called “The Inner Game of Music”, by Barry Green with W. Timothy Gallwey, designed to help every musician overcome obstacles, improve concentration, and reduce nervousness, thus paving the way for heightened performance and is an excellent tool for all music teacher as well.

This passage I read just last night before dozing off:

Expanding Your Understanding of Stress (p. 126-127)

Most Western music is based on a harmonic system of creating and resolving dissonance. Effectively, this means that the music gains much of its power from setting up musical tensions and stresses, and then resolving them. Mahler’s superb crafting of movements full of chaos, warlike sonorities, and dramatic dissonance is essential to build the tension that he ultimately resolves in his serene and harmonious endings. This creation and resolution of tension is what brings the performer and listener a real feeling of beauty and satisfaction in the music.

It’s not as though music is alone in this, either. A gripping movie, play, or novel is one that builds tension and suspense – and then releases it. This is one of those places where the arts can teach us about life, for life, too, contains its times of discord and tension, and its moments of relaxation and repose.

When we realize that what at first looks like a stressful or negative experience can be understood as a “dissonance” that can lead to resolution, we can begin to accept the stressful moments and flow with them instead of resisting them. The times that we look back on with the greatest pleasure are often those when we experienced a full measure of obstacles and stresses and were able to bring them to a harmonious resolution. Our goal is to be able to “experience our experience” fully, without classifying it as either bad or good.

Solving a musical problem means facing the problem and finding a resolution to it. It’s another example of the way in which seeming dissonance leads to harmony and growth. As psychiatrist M. Scott Peck observed in his book The Road Less Travelled, “It is in this whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning… Problems call for the our courage and our wisdom; indeed they create our courage and our wisdom. It is only because of problems that we grow… It is for this reason that wise people learn not to dread but actually welcome problems.”

Here again, the secret is to value all your feelings ad all your experiences – the down times along with the up, the rough with the smooth. It’s your life that’s made up of all those moments, and the more you allow yourself to actually feel and experience, the more alive you’ll be. And that sense of aliveness will translate directly in to lively, deeply felt music.

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