Excerpt - from "Tuning"
This excerpt is from the chapter titled “Tuning.” The speaker is the student, Richard Kyle; his teacher’s name is Mr. Alex Kubadi.
Continuing to face the windows he (Mr. Kubadi) replied, “You know, Andrés
Segovia said that ‘the world does not need another guitar player, but what the world does need is musicians and artists who happen to play the guitar.’ My understanding of his statement is that guitar players only understand the guitar and are exclusively concerned with reproducing on their instruments the physical patterns of positions and movements that make up a piece of music. Their musical vision is very limited and their attention is almost completely centered in the physical sphere. Though they can at times appear impressive, their work is musically and artistically superficial, and ultimately without meaning or significance. In reality, they experience and communicate neither music nor art. On the other hand, the attention of a musician is concentrated in the musical sphere — the domain of musical thought, expression, and imagery. While absorbed in the musical sphere the musician communes with the physical sphere to express his musical vision.
“For Segovia, a real artist is a great and wondrous achievement of being. He is a living testament to, in the words of Pablo Casals, ‘the indivisible affinity between art and human values.’ A real artist works at a level beyond both the guitar player and the musician, yet embodies the highest attainments of both. Absorbed in the artistic sphere he creates works that are enduring and assists humanity in its ongoing struggle to free itself from the bondage of ignorance and destructive self-interest. The artist is absorbed in the artistic sphere where the material of life is distilled into an expression of its universal quest for meaning. The artist is absorbed in the artistic sphere, yet communes with the musical and the physical spheres to express to the world his artistic vision.”
He turned to his guitar, removed it from the stand beside his chair, and adjusted it into playing position. I was reminded of something he once asked me, ‘When you play your guitar, where do you end and your guitar begin?’ With him, the boundary was either obscure or non-existent.
He played the low E-string. He played it again and then again, but did not alter its pitch.
“I am listening to hear if this string is tuned to the correct pitch. If you need help with this, you can use a tuning standard. The rule is: Do not change anything before you hear it.” His voice, mimicking the sound of his guitar, was soft and precise.
“I must hear this sound first, just this one sound, but to hear it my mind must be very quiet and receptive. Attention is the necessary element to instigate this positive cycle. I must bring my full attention to the sound.”
He sounded the low E again, then the A on the next string, and then played them together.
“This interval is a perfect fourth. Listen to its quality — its unique sound.”
He continued in this way, working from string to string, occasionally pointing out an interval and asking me to listen to its quality, still not changing the tuning of even a single string.
“Listen to this major third,” he said as he played the G on the third string with the B on the second. “Do you hear that this interval is not correct — that its shape is pinched?”
I tried but could not hear the distinction.
“I don’t think I’m getting it. I am hearing but unable to discriminate these qualities. I don’t understand what you mean by the shape of the interval.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “It will come. Be patient, remain open, trust.” And indeed, after a while, I did begin to notice the distinctions he had been indicating.
Then he stopped playing and said that he had arrived at the ‘state of consensus’.
“I understand what is correct and what is incorrect and can now begin to make the changes.” He played the D-string again, but this time, with the sound still ringing, he turned the tuning peg and raised its pitch.
“It is very important to follow the sound as it changes,” he suggested, “not allowing the attention to fragment.”
Observing his work, I noticed that he never needed to search for the right note — that he was able to go directly to the correct sound. He never backtracked and the process seemed intelligent and efficient. When he finished tuning he played a few chords in various positions along the fret board.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“It sounds good,” I replied.
“Yes, but can we now try to make our attention even finer?”
Returning to his guitar, he made a few more adjustments, then played the same sequence of chords again.
“What do think now?”
I smiled. “The sound is even better now.”
“Good,” he replied. “Let us proceed, but first, do you have any questions or observations you wish to share?”
I told him that I thought I was beginning to hear the intervals in a new way and understand what he meant when he talked about the different shapes of the intervals.
“It was not a visual experience at all,” I said, and tried to describe my impression of audio shapes existing in some tangible musical space.
Mr. Kubadi nodded as I spoke. When I finished, he reminded me that it had not been my first experience of the musical sphere, but that the difference was I had achieved it this time due to my own effort of attention. Regarding this distinction, I must admit that I had little idea of what he actually meant, though from that day onward, I found I was able to consistently make the effort to initiate the state of attention that would transport me into the musical sphere. It was like my teacher had given me the taste of working
with my attention and, as a result, my listening experience was forever changed and the whole process of my musical work was dramatically altered. He later said that I had begun to work in the state of informed lucidity.
Outside the windows, the snow had stopped falling. Luminous blue patches stretched across the sky.
“And now,” he said, “would you like to tune your instrument again?”
Upon striking the first note, I knew I was hearing better. I was relaxed and the simple sounds of tuning were beautiful. Distinct and pure tones seemed to hang in gentle contrast upon a crystalline background of transparent silence. It was easy and enjoyable to tune. I was interested, attracted, drawn into the work, and in no hurry to just get through it.
When I finished, I checked my work by playing a few chords as my teacher had. The sound was generally good, though still exhibiting a certain harshness that had not been present when my teacher played his chords. Speaking in a very comforting voice, he drew my attention again to some of the chords, pointing out the shape of certain intervals.
“Listen,” he said. “I know you can hear.”
Encouraged, I continued to work. No longer just trying to match notes on the guitar, I was adjusting and refining the state of my instrument and my own state as well. Again, I played a few chords and, this time, the sound rang out with the pristinity of stars shining in the evening sky.
Now, almost four years later, I sat in that same chair absorbed in the memory of that lesson.
“Are you ready?” he asked as he walked across the room to the upholstered chair directly across from where I was sitting.
“Yes, I’m ready to tune my guitar now,” I replied, and wondered if my teacher had somehow seen how far my mind had wandered.
As always, he sat very still while I tuned — it seemed respectfully. When I finished, he almost imperceptibly inclined his head.
“There is a deep secret about tuning,” he said. “Try to understand that there is a distinction between your guitar being in tune and the music you play being in tune.”
“Is it not the same thing?”
“Not at all,” He replied. “Your guitar can be in tune and yet the music can be out of tune.” He smiled and asked me if I understood.
“Does it have something to do with the problem of tempering?” I asked.
“There is a connection,” he replied, and then promised to revisit the conversation at another time. “But for now,” he continued, “I would like you to demonstrate your week’s work.”
“I have continued working with the transcription of Logy’s Partita in A Minor. My intention was to demonstrate it in my lesson today,” I replied.
“Yes, please do.” He took a long slow breath and closed his eyes
I readied myself and then played the entire suite from beginning to end. It was very unusual that he didn’t stop me to make suggestions. After I finished, neither of us spoke and a familiar, tangible, silence seemed to envelope the studio.
I had played well, I thought, though a little shaky in some places and my vision of the ‘Sarabande’ still lacked what he called the conviction of understanding, but my demonstration had been consistent with my work. There were no surprises.
I looked to my teacher. He was sitting very still, his eyes closed, and I could just barely perceive the slow, rhythmic movement of his breathing. The quality of effacement I observed about him at the beginning of our lesson was still manifesting and I began to ponder the paradox of this effacement and his presence. He seemed to be so absent and yet so powerfully present at the same time?
Later that evening, still basking in the afterglow of our lesson and wishing to somehow maintain that state, I randomly opened my journal and re-read some of my teacher’s thoughts from a previous lesson. I was particularly struck by his statement, “Some have said that silence is the canvas upon which sound is painted, but I believe it is more than that. I believe that silence is the source of sound and sound represents the evolutionary transformation of silence.” Continuing his explanation, he went on to say that just as the white ray of light divides into the seven tonalities of color when passed through a prism, so too the transparent sound of silence, passing through the prism point of creation, eventually condenses into the seven tones of the musical scale. “Like dew on the tip of a leaf,” he said.
I asked if it was possible to experience that silence which is the source of sound.
“Not only experience it, but also to serve it,” he replied. “Silence is the master; music, a jeweled ring. On the finger of the master, the ring is priceless, off the finger and disconnected from the master, the same ring is worthless. Labor consciously and bear the suffering of real work to make your music worthy of the finger of the master and the message of his silence.”
I closed my journal, then my eyes, and in the stillness formed within my mind a vision of a pure and living light beaming through the firmament, bursting into a shimmering effulgence of luminous colors.
“In the beginning was the Word,” I thought, the Light that comes before the dawn.