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Saturday morning quotes 5.3: Eloquence

June 6, 2015

“I may say so, that some being of opinion that it troubles and disturbs the brains of children suddenly to wake them in the morning, and to snatch them violently and over-hastily from sleep (wherein they are much more profoundly involved than we), [my father] caused me to be wakened by the sound of some musical instrument, and was never unprovided of a musician for that purpose.”

– Essais de Michel Seigneur de Montaigne (1533 – 1592), Of the education of children, English translation by Charles Cotton (1630 – 1687)

As we examine the forgotten fragments that contributed to the education of musicians from the distant past, we encounter several words that have different connotations today.  Artificial was once a term of praise that described a thing that was full of artifice, but now describes something that has been synthesized in a laboratory.  Liberal once described generosity and was also applied to describe the studies comprising the trivium and quadrivium; areas of study intended to develop general intellectual capacities such as reason and judgment. Liberal is now used a a term of derision delivered by sneering pundits to describe one who supposedly supports increased government spending. Rhetoric is now used to describe pedantic chin music, but was once the study of the art of eloquent discourse, developed over the millennia as a means to educate the orator, and an important component of a musician’s education.

Eloquence is term that has retained its original meaning, and one we bandy about quite liberally in describing effective musical performance. Eloquence is derived from the Latin, e, a form of ex, meaning “out of,” and loqui, meaning “to speak.”  One who is eloquent possesses an understanding and command of language and has the ability to speak fluidly, gracefully and persuasively. In music, an eloquent performer embodies the meaning of the text and the character of the music, presenting the result in such a way as to move the emotions of the listener.  As in oratory, an eloquent musical style is simple, graceful, clear, concise and convincing.

An eloquent style requires an understanding and use of rhetorical devices, and for rhetorical devices to be effective, they must be understood by the audience.  This necessarily presumes that there exists an audience today who is comprised of connoisseurs who are themselves trained in rhetoric and therefore receptive to the modes of performance we so carefully prepare.  Of course, today’s audiences have been trained to react to loud flashbang performances delivered by performers who either do not understand nor possess an eloquent style, or who have resignedly molded their delivery to suit the lowest common denominator.

The solution lies in education.  We watch with dismay the erosion of standards in public behavior and it can be directly linked to a lower standard of education, which is more and more directed toward technical knowledge and professionalism.  We see this as a missed opportunity to develop the individual potential of our children – and our future.

“…Among children there is shining promise of many accomplishments; and when that dies out out as they grow older it is plain that it was not talent that failed but training.”

– Quintilian, Institutes of Oratory, Early Education.

In this, our fifth year of quotations, we will be tapping into several historical sources to present ideas to help form a curriculum for musical children, modern musicians, and for audiences in an attempt to restore an appreciation for musical eloquence.  A tough job but someone has to do it.

One Comment
  1. I love Montaigne’s idea of children being awakened to music. As a child I was lucky enough to drift off to sleep to the beautiful phrasing of my Mom on the piano. It started me on a life-long quest for eloquence in music performance. Thanks, Ron and Donna.

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