Friday, December 20, 2013

How Music Spins Up My Soul

It took quite awhile to realize that people who also love music don't also love music for the same reasons I do. This is probably because music's effect on me is so immediate and so fundamentally related to what is going on in side me that it feels as if it couldn't be any other way for anyone else. Maybe it is genetic. Maybe it is programming, but it is "musical direction" that my dad always pointed out to me -- the way the harmonies and the melodies walk through the span of a piece and carry the listener's heart along. For me, the presence of that direction has always been a necessary ingredient in truly good music.

To put it another way, to guys like us, it is the horizontal progress of a piece that makes the magic, not the a rows of verticals stacked up next to one another like books on a shelf, that makes the magic happen. Rock music (and pop) are often based on verticals: one chord follows another and the melody note is just something laid over the top. To my dad (and to me) that was generally ineffective. But when harmonies melodies and chord move gracefully in a profound arabesque on their horizontal journey; when they "go where they need to go" it affects me (and it affected him) in the most profound way.

When music does this to me, I feel an actual physical "high." If there is a door that holds back the endorphin flood, for me, particular harmonic clusters and progressions are the key to the lock. Emily Dickinson said she "knew" poetry this way:

"If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry."
I can relate to that feeling. Or, with music, it is more like the piece spins up my soul like cotton candy with supple spins and twists of its baton... Without ridiculously stretched-out metaphors, there really is no other way to put it...

In my tribute to my dad, I referred to him, as a boy, listening over and over to a section from Puccini, in an attempt to "nourish his little soul that needed harmonic direction the way a plant needs light." I'm there, too. It is, in fact, (to guys like us) more of a need than a desire.

I could share a lot of examples of these moments in music, from Ravel to Roy Harris to Richard Rogers to Samuel Barber to...lots of others. So, what about Daryl Hall?

If I am going to choose a way to illustrate music that does this weird thing to me, I might as well use something in the popular vein, in hopes that those who haven't delved into the forest of mid twentieth century harmonic adventures might relate, too. (May dad always said, music is either good or bad; genre does not matter. He respected his fellow Philadelphian, Daryl Hall; I'm even told he even played trumpet and arranged horn parts for him a few times, in the very early days.)

I know he would agree with me on the chorus of this song, "Why Was It So Easy?" from Hall's one-time collaboration with the iconic Robert Fripp. Maybe you will understand my musical perspective as you allow Hall's chords, in the chorus, to spin your soul up onto its baton, too. (Try to forgive Butch Walker's over-the-top stylings at the end of this; he was as excited as I would have been to be performing with a pop legend.) Start at 1:47 if you want to skip the back story. Enjoy the harmonic trip, and may your weekend resonate the richest of harmonic joys:


  1. Lately I've been digging back into music to which I was indifferent in the 1980s, whether out of honest ignorance or a misguided sense of what was cool, and I've started to rediscover and re-appreciate Hall and Oates. It's neat to know your father contributed to their music.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours, good sir!

    1. Merry Christmas to you, too, Jeff. A lot does rest on the presentation, though. With these musicians, everything sounds better; this version is much better than the one on Sacred Songs. And Hall's hair in the 80s was more than enough reason not to listen to him. It was inexcusable.

      My dad wrote many of the arrangements for horns during the "Philly Sound" era and played on a lot of the classic Gamble and Huff tracks. All uncredited, back then. They'd cut a check and be done with it.