Planning the unplanable?

Hello everyone!

I’d like to apologize for the hiatus. All of our regular and semi-regular contributors have been traveling, working, writing, and getting married. And because we’re all also ethno students, we’ve also been making, listening to, and thinking about music the whole time. For this week’s post, I wanted to share some musical thoughts I had while planning and then “performing” my wedding (I can’t stop thinking about music. I’ve tried.).

I don’t necessarily relate everything in my life to music. It’s just, being a musician and a music scholar means that many things in my life involve or revolve around music. And often times, I learn a great deal about music and life when the two are joined in serious ways.

One case in point happened last weekend. I got married. Being the kind of people that my husband and I are (wow, grammar), we wanted music at our wedding. But more than that, I wanted live music at our wedding. But even more than that, I wanted to play the live music at our wedding. My wedding, I imagined, would be a wash of sounds. I fantasized walking down the aisle as a full battalion of horns played “Ride of the Valkyries” (“battalion” is the collective noun for horns, right?). I wanted a jazz band and an Irish band and a full gamelan to play at the reception. You know that traditional practice of clinking one’s wine glass at the reception in order to get the bride and groom to kiss? My husband and I practiced polos and sangsih patterns to play on our own wine glasses. On top of all of this, I wanted all my friends, family, and former professors to play music together. Everyone would bring, borrow, or create an instrument, and we’d all play together. My wedding reception was going to be one, huge jam session.

But it wasn’t.

And that got me thinking. Music is fantastic when it’s planned. We did have an Irish band play and that was incredible! One of my bridesmaids played with them and sang and getting to hear her perform again was heavenly. And a husband and wife duo who are friends with my husband played a piano/guitar duet for us that was more wonderful than I can say.

Music is also fantastic when it isn’t planned. The guitarist for the Irish band sat in on the guitar/piano duet, even though he didn’t know what they were going to play before that day. People making music together, people playing music together makes life magical. I think too often I misunderstand all the meaning behind the word “play.” Playing music can be a serious thing, but even when the music is serious, the playing of it doesn’t have to be. Playing music can include not just the performance of the music itself, but everything that goes into putting that performance in front of people. Which brings me to my concluding thought:

Trying to plan unplanned music is difficult, frustrating, and ultimately useless. I drove myself to distraction trying to figure out how to carefully plan a situation for spontaneously created music. I think perhaps deep down in my ethnomusicologist’s soul, I knew it wasn’t going to work, but I just kept hoping and planning. Please don’t misunderstand me, the wedding and the reception were perfect! I’m married to my best friend, I enjoyed every minute of that day, and I’m looking forward to enjoying every minute of the rest of my life with him. But because I relate pretty much every experience in my life back to ethno, I realize even more the truth behind Christina Sunardi’s article, “Negotiating Authority and Articulating Gender: Performer Interaction in Malang, East Java,”: ethnomusicologists are often some of the luckiest scholars (and people) out there because we’re often present for fantastic displays of unplanned music. Similarly, because we know so many incredible musicians, we’re often able to organize fantastic displays of planned music. But when the music is planned, particularly by the ethnomusicologist, that fact needs to be acknowledged. Planned music isn’t better or worse than unplanned music, but I think problems, heartaches, and worse can happen if we try to plan unplanned music.

– Heather

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