From a young age, I found the difference between music and sound intriguing. Often, I would compare noise with music, seeing if a non-musical suddenly became a musical one. The transformation never happened, and I still don’t know what distinguishes sound from music, other than on a theoretical level.
My musical journey began with the descant recorder, followed by the guitar, and finally the piano, the instrument that had captured my attention from the beginning. I eventually won a piano scholarship and gave piano recitals for more than a decade.
During my degree training, however, I struggled with stage fright and abandoned thoughts of concert performance. Instead, I studied twentieth century music, along with composition, excited by academic possibilities and the dream of obtaining a PhD.
As part of my degree training, I analysed musical works in detail, in ways perhaps that a biologist might analyse samples. My interest in musical structures – both architectural-type structures (binary, ternary, sonata form) and the behaviour within music structure (for instance, implication, realisation, closure) – led me to an academic approach that was essentially reduction based. If a musicologist wished, they could reduce a musical work to charts, graphs, numbers. Potentially, they could overlook the aesthetical quality of the music. This became an issue for me when I developed a strong interest in the analysis of twentieth century works but rarely listened to them for pleasure.
The Undergraduate Research Project
I was a purist at heart and loved nothing more than the tonal tradition, along with good old-fashioned music theory. I wanted to know why certain diatonic harmonies were more pleasing to the ear than others and why a musical work finishing on any pitch or harmony other than the Tonic (i) would come across as incomplete, and thus lack closure.
I thought the answers might lie in the study of music psychology. After attempting to combine musical analysis (strictly limited to tonal works) with the nature/nurture debate in psychology, I submitted my dissertation Implication In Tonal Music In An Analytical And Psychological Context to the examiners. But I didn’t discover the answers to my questions, including the question of what distinguishes music from sound.
A year or so after graduating, my personal circumstances changed, and like many new graduates facing a myriad of obstacles and uncertainties, I had to re-evaluate my goals in order to ascertain what I really wanted to do in life.
The answer seemed like a dare, almost impossible at times.
Play the piano, for a living. Perform, even with concert nerves.
The idea took me to London, north of the river.
Where I remain today.