Building Social, Language, and
Music Skills Through SongPlay

Friday, March 1, 2002
Best Western Richmond Inn Hotel,
7551 Westminster Hwy.
Richmond, B.C., Canada

An International Conference presented by Music EdVentures, Inc.

Plenary Address - a Keynote ("seize the Key - C's the Key!)
by John Wolf Brennan (dedicted to Fleurette Sweeney)

Singing: "Le coq est mort" - an international feminist hymn (in canon)

How about starting this keynote with a little experiment -
a kind of musical "joint EdVenture"
and what better way than to de-construct its title, to use its
phonetic LEGO bricks and build a Babbly-lonian Lego Tower (for Carl Leggo)

M   mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmhhh (imagine you're really hungry)
U   you - you? YOU!
S   sssssssssssss (a feast for tongue and teeth)
Sic!   in latin this means "as" / sometimes we can also get sic(k) of sounds…
William Shakespeare: "If music be the food of love…" (from: "Twelfth Night")
an exercise for our diaphragm (pulling out layers of cotton tissue out of your
tummy dispenser) s ---------- sssssssssshhhhhhhh
Ed   (more tongue-twisting rap) edededededededededededed
V   Volcano vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv (activvvvvvvvvvvvate your lips)
Vent air, hiss, breeze, wind, gale, storm, hurricane, typhoon / Vent-ilator
Ture German word for "door" / Turkish for "Cymbal" and 'Symbol'
R   rrrrrrrrrrrrrolling Rs ---- rrrrrrrrrringing DingDong, YingYang, PingPong
Res   think of the phrase "I have my REServation" if uttered or whispered by
a) a Native American going to his homeland
b) a nervous business traveler defending the right of his seat (in a train, in an
AIR CANADA airplane )
c) a skeptical listener of a suspicious political speech full of "bushy" metaphors
('evil axis')

syn>aes>the>sis: joint perception, to perceive simultaneously, a harmoy of different
- or even opposing - impulses produced by a work of art

A marriage of the senses

" M a m a, I h e a r t h e f o g ! "

This excited (and exciting) exclamation, a synaesthetic proclamation uttered by a
six-year old boy in the cable-car connecting the valley town of Weggis (situated at
Lake Lucerne, Central Switzerland, where I live) and the mountain village of Rigi-Kaltbad,
the very moment the cabin passed through the sea of clouds, in other words:
the moment it transcended the borderline between two very different worlds,
the realm of the grey fog (rendering all topography invisible, although your
cognitive mind tells you that it still must be there, somewhere hidden under the
sheets) and the realm of the blue sky, both worlds just two sides of the
same reality, can be read, depending on your own perspective, either as
a very daring statement or pure evidence, no "big deal", the greatest self-evidence
in the world as it were. Nevertheless, the little boy's uneasy question started to
bug me, to haunt my mind, and made me start looking for answers to this puzzle.

So I turned to art, thinking: "what can we learn from people spending a 'lifetime sentence' in front of an easel (a frame supporting an artist's canvas), or sitting at a piano,
or bent over piles of paper on a desk, or standing in front of a sculpture with
a hammer and a chisel - in other words: what has the artist to say?

"No possible collection of remarks can explain our paintings. Their explanation
is the result of a consummated experience between picture and onlooker. The
honouring of art is a real marriage of the senses. And in art as well as in marriage, lack of consummation is a reason for annulation."
This radical statement was written by Mark Rothko in 1943. The primary, unbiased
perception of the picture lead Rothko to this radical rejection of secondary information
(here, I believe, my friend Carl Leggo will go into this matter tomorrow in his speech, speaking about literature and the scholar pressure to "interprete" a poem rather than just reading, dancing, singing it - thus giving it back its life!).
Nothing whatsoever should interfere with the direct contact between picture and observer, nothing should distract from the direct experience. Rothko also rejected the convention prevailing in many museums to put a tag on all the paintings, to label them,
to put them into a catalogue. He wanted the phantasy of the visitor to
be able to float around freely.

The carefully staged 'consummated experience between picture and onlooker' should
be at the very center of perception, so the knowledge of the year a painting was created, a number or even the title "untitled" had to be avoided, in order not to distract the onlooking process.

Consequently Rothko's pictures were created in huge oversizes, overwhelming
"murals" as he called them, which span all the way from the floor to the ceiling and
surround the observer like being in a cathedral, take him prisoner in a huge visual
cage, which is simultaneously open and closed, focused and wide-angled.

Like in a mythical drama, the contents of the picture should be conveyed to the onlooker
in form of a a transcendental experience. So, from 1948 on, Rothko began to do avoid all
sorts of referential or associative titles for his paintings. Instead, he was moving on to
pure colour indications, such as "yellow and blue" or "black over reds".

The re-enchantment of the world

"Poetry is identical with inspired thinking, i.e. a form of thinking which sees, because it is similar to a world not separated from the mystery. Inspiration tells the artist, what he has to paint: for example a chain of thoughts, consisting of the elements 'pipe' and the inscription 'Ceci n'est pas une pipe'", says Rene Margritte.

His famous pipe, which of course is not a real pipe, but the idea of a pipe, makes fun about all the wise-crack academic explanations, which would only destroy the beautiful
mystery, the enchanted wonder.

But anyway - the mysterious realm of sensual perception can never be wholly destroyed by even our most rational and "deepest" dis-explanation, because it has a habit of
coming up for air periodically, when we least expect it, emerging from the ocean of the subconscious, ready to re-enchant the world.

"I have tried to copy nature, and I failed miserably. I have dis-covered, that the sun can not be reproduced. Instead, it can be represented by something else: through colour.
Colour is bio-logical, if I may say so, is a living entity: and it alone has the power to make things alive", says Paul Cezanne.

We only need to replace the word "colour" by "sound colour" (Klangfarbe) or "colour tone" (Farbtoene) to apply Cezannes statement to music. Paul Klee spoke of this in his diary as early as in 1910: "More important than studying nature is the attitude towards the contents of the paint box. Someday I want to be able to freely improvise on the colour keyboard of the watercolour paints."

And Pablo Picasso emphasizes: "Ideas are just starting points. If you want to know, what
you want to draw, you have to start to draw."

Wait a minute - what have we got here? - Isn't this the ancient parable of the snake biting into its own tail, in disguise? The everlasting question, whichever was first, the hen or the egg? A kind of ZEN-Buddhist Koan, like "what is the sound of one hand clapping?"

But if we look at our own life, we find the same paradox all over: how can we start to
- draw
- play
- sing
- talk
- dance
- love
- live

if we don't know anything about it?

And vice-versa, how can we learn to know anything, without in the first place having
- drawn
- played
- sung
- talked
- danced
- loved
- lived before???!??????????????!????????????????!???????????????!???????!
(maybe we have, we just don't remember, another reason to carefully listen to the kids,
to let them explain the pictures in a museum to you, again and again)

Among the Amazon Indians, there is an ancient legend: There are exactly two ways to survive the jungle… either as an old (wo)man with a lifetime experience,
With all the knowledge and wisdom in the world gathered, about all the dangers and
Traps, poisons and healing forces of nature
As a newborn baby.
So - innocence is the key.
And thanks God music (MUSIC) has a unique power to give back the gift of innocence
to the world, in other words: to re-enchant it.

Vancouver, MacKenzie House, March 2002

John Wolf Brennan

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CH-6353 Weggis