While I can play the piano, my childhood piano teacher, Miss Bayley, didn’t teach me much music theory – largely because she didn’t know much herself. About sixty years later I decided to correct this by going back to learn theory. But not to Miss Bayley, who would be about 128 years old and possibly retired. In any case, she lives interstate. I therefore enrolled in a course at the Sydney Conservatorium.
I never had the enthusiasm for Miss Bayley that I have for my current lecturer, a woman in her fortish with undisciplined hair, a variety of interesting boots and a ready laugh. I don’t even mind having to share her with a class of others striving to understand the endless intricacies of musical notation. Her classes are as joyful as they are instructive. Last week we tackled the 12 bar blues, as a musical idiom. This, with variations, is the backbone of many songs about trouble, probably because it came from the imported black cotton slaves of early America. Our homework was to write a 12 bar blues song based on a certain chord progression. The lyrics of my song were, roughly, “While I was having my leg amputated after a cotton machine accident my woman ran off with my best friend who lives next door, leaving me with seven kids – all girls.” The lecturer said that many blues songs were about people who might return or have just left, often with mutually saved family funds. I must say that when I’d written my music and played it over a few times there was no doubt: it was terrible. I won’t be entering it for Eurovision.
One of our main subjects is rhythm, indicated by the key signature and the length of the written notes. My imagination immediately jumped to the conclusion that rhythm would play a significant role in the sex lives of dedicated musicians. Instead of whispered words of love they would communicate with seductive time signature and note value suggestions, plus terms like prestissimo for when things are hotting up or largo for lying back later. The couple would start out with a few minum feelers, a heavy chord or two, some predictable crotchets which would turn into semiquavers as the pace quickened, and finish with a rushing upscale of hemi demisemiquavers. Then descending arpeggios, and soft, big minor semibreve chords as they go off to sleep. Quite a few composers have written musical intercourse. If you listen to Liszt’s famous ‘Liebestraum’ you’ll hear what I mean. This is as close Franz got to porm, I think.