One thing that makes our performance and practice unnecessarily difficult is the weight of our Western culture that we carry. You can see visible signs of it in yourself and others in a number of places. Cultural expectations show up in tense muscles, all competing to take over performance, wresting it from the nonverbal part of the body who has been in fact practicing everything all along, and in the face, notably the eyes and eyebrows. A clam in performance is enough to twist eyebrows into knots. Or eyes wince. Or the head shakes. The culture’s attitude is, Be Perfect All the Time. Or: If at first you don’t succeed (brilliantly), quit. The culture demands perfection, and this is a great impediment to learning. Perfection is a goal. It’s not just distant – the supposed last level on the quest of mastery – it’s imaginary. It provides direction, but culture demands that we feel not just directed or motivated, but dissatisfied because we’re not there. After all, there are examples everywhere! Listen to any CD – it’s all perfect! (OK, so there were three hundred takes). Your face/body isn’t perfect? Feel bad! Just look at all the perfect specimens on magazine covers (OK, so even the most gorgeous have been Photoshopped to a fair-thee-well). You’re really, really good? Feel bad (screams The Culture)! There are still people better than you! There are always people better than you!
Sound may be structured or unstructured. Unstructured sound is what we call noise. We all know the effect ‘noise’ has on us: it makes us irritable and distracted. The louder it is, the more irritating it is. It makes us want to flee. If we can’t escape it, it jangles our nerves and makes us aggressive, even violent. Pity those that work in loud and noisy environment, such as jackhammer operators or horn players or violists who have to sit in front of the trumpet section in the orchestra.
Some noise is soothing. This is usually ‘white’ noise, which is mix of all frequencies, like ocean surf, a breeze, a radio tuned to no station, a waterfall. Why is this noise soothing? Perhaps because it is usually soft and continuous, without loud spikes of treble.
No one doubts that music has an effect on the human psyche, but it is interesting to compare the viewpoints on this by different cultures. Prehistoric cultures saw music as a magical healer for body and mind. In the Old Testament, David cured Saul’s madness by playing the harp. Trumpet blasts brought down the wall of Jericho.