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Music Quotes

Compiled by Gregory Acker


Perhaps the first thing to remember is that air is elastic. Imagine what happens when you bang two things together, a ruler on a table, for instance...Now a table is elastic--more elastic than, say, a block of concrete--and the force of the ruler hitting it moves the table-top; it moves only very slightly, but it does move...and the air around the table receives a jolt...a fraction of a second later, the air jostles our ear drums and we hear the sound. All you need then to make sound is something that vibrates.    You can't shake your hands fast enough, but a hummingbird's wings...--Geoffrey Russell-Smith

The foundations of any subject may be taught to anybody at any age in some form. --Jerome Bruner

Children learn to talk by experimenting and listening; they can learn to make music by experimenting and listening--unless we stop them! Place children in surroundings that are full of "invitations to learn," provide them with encouraging and sympathetic attitudes from adults, as well as knowledge, and amazing things can happen--especially to the sensory perceptions that are central to the we have the courage to embark with them on what are frequently unknown seas? --Emma D. Sheehy

...we may be able to prove conclusively that all men are born with potentially brilliant intellects...and that the source of cultural creativity is the consciousness that springs from social cooperation and loving interaction...the majority of us live far below our potential, because of the oppressive nature of most societies. --John Blacking

A course of study may be conceived of as a stimulus for the teacher to discover and learn more for herself; too often it is accepted as a framework beyond which she is afraid to explore.--Emma D. Sheehy

From the beginning of his education, the child should experience the joy of discovery. --Alfred North Whitehead

We must ask why apparently general musical abilities should be restricted to a chosen few in societies supposed to be culturally more advanced.   Does cultural development represent a real advance in human sensitivity, or is it chiefly a diversion for elites and a weapon of class exploitation? --John Blacking

I don't know anything about music. In my line you
don't have to.
--Elvis Presley

...I have great hopes for the possibility of a dynamic universalism that respects all our people. --Anthony Braxton

The public doesn't want new music; the main thing it demands of a composer is that he be dead. --Arthur Honegger

I love Wagner, but the music I prefer is that of a cat hung up by its tail outside a window and trying to stick to the panes of glass with its claws. --Charles Baudelaire

Wagner's music is better than it sounds. --Mark Twain

Rejection of the new has always existed....One of the most famous examples of disdain for new music was the violent reaction to Wagner's compositions by the leading classicists of his day. There is certainly no implication here that we must like everything we hear....All this is very closely related to living and working with children, for their explorations in the discovery of the world of sound can irritate or please according as we "hear" the possibilities for extending their interest by the opportunities they present to us. --Emma D. Sheehy

Thus, if a composer wants to produce music that is relevant to his contemporaries, his chief problem is not really musical, though it may seem to him to be so; it is a problem of attitude to contemporary society and culture in relation to the basic human problem of learning to be human.--John Blacking

We cannot doubt that animals both love and practice music. That is evident.  But it seems their musical system differs from ours.
It is another school....We are not familiar with their didactic works. Perhaps they don't have any.
--Erik Satie

All the sounds on the earth are like music. --Oscar Hammerstein

Sweet is every sound, Sweeter thy voice, but every sound is sweet; Myriads of rivulets hurrying thro' the lawn, The moans of doves in immemorial elms, And murmuring of innumerable bees. --Alfred Tennyson

Sugar is not so sweet to the palate as sound to the healthy ear. --Ralph Waldo Emerson

...the moment of passage from disturbance into harmony is that of intensest life. --John Dewey

Extraordinary how potent cheap music is. --Noel Coward

Distinctions between the surface complexity of different musical styles and techniques do not tell us anything useful about the expressive purposes and power of music, or about the intellectual organization involved in its creation...all music is structurally, as well as functionally, folk music. The makers of "art" music are not innately more sensitive or cleverer than "folk" musicians: the structures of their music simply express...the numerically larger systems of interaction of folk in their societies, the consequences of a more extensive division of labor, and an accumulated technological tradition. --John Blacking

...the elephant smoked too much. --Victor Borge (explaining why the keys of his piano were so yellow)

In the course of an average lifetime anyone growing up in a house with such a clock (Westminster Chimes) will hear the tune over a million times. --Dudley Moore

I heard someone say that all black people got rhythm. Bullshit. --Ray Charles

All singers have this fault: if asked to sing among friends they are never so inclined; if unasked, they never leave off. --Horace

If music be the food of love, play on: give me excess of it... --William Shakespeare

Improvisation: the art of thinking and performing music simultaneously. --Grove Dictionary of Music (1954)

An error may be only an unintentional rightness...Do not get too fussy about how every part of the thing sounds. Go ahead. All processes are at first awkward and clumsy and "funny." Do not be afraid of being wrong; just be afraid of being uninteresting. --T. Carl Whitmer

The idea of a mistake is beside the point, for once anything happens it authentically is. --John Cage

Free improvisation, in addition to being a highly skilled musical craft, is open to use by almost anyone--beginners, children, and non-musicians. The skill and intellect required is whatever is available. Its accessibility to the performer is, in fact, something which appears to offend both its supporters and detractors....And as regards method, the improvisor employs the oldest in music-making...Mankind's first musical performance couldn't have been anything other than a free improvisation. --Derek Bailey

Music is given to us with the sole purpose of establishing an order in things, including, and particularly, the coordination between man and time. --Igor Stravinsky

Diversity is its most consistent characteristic....The characteristics of freely improvised music are established only by the sonic-musical identity of the person or persons playing it. --Derek Bailey

Undeniably, the audience for improvisation, good or bad, active or passive, sympathetic or hostile, has a power that no other audience has. It can affect the creation of that which is being witnessed. And perhaps because of that possibility the audience for improvisation has a degree of intimacy with the music that is not achieved in any other situation. --Derek Bailey

...improvisation on the piano was a necessity of his life. Every journey that takes him away from the instrument for some time excites a homesickness for his piano, and when he returns he longingly caresses the keys to ease himself of the burden of the tone experiences that have mounted up in him, giving them utterance in improvisations. --Alexander Moskowski (reporting what Albert Einstein told him in 1919)

The man that hath no music in himself Nor is not move'd with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons , strategems, and spoils; The motions of his spirit are dull as night, And his affections dark as Erebus: Let no such man be trusted. --William Shakespeare

What reason has one for existing other than to be involved with what is actually being created in your particular time? --Anthony Pay

Improvisation is the basis of learning to play a musical instrument. But what usually happens? You decide you want a certain instrument. You buy the instrument and then think to yourself, "I'll go and find a teacher, and who knows, in seven or eight years' time I might be able to play this thing." And in that way you miss a mass of important musical experience...a person's own investigation of an instrument--his exploration of it--is totally valid. --John Stevens

If somebody says to me "I can't improvise!"--and they could be somebody with the biggest chunk of classical training imaginable in their background--I would find that very inspiring. Because I know that within a very short time they will be doing it and saying "Oh, is that it?" And then they will do it again. You see, it's the most natural thing in the world. --John Stevens

In 1968 I ran into Steve Lacy on the street in Rome. I took out my pocket tape recorder and asked him to describe in fifteen seconds the difference between composition and improvisation. He answered: "In fifteen seconds the difference between composition and improvisation is that in composition you have all the time you want to decide what to say in fifteen seconds, while in improvisation you have fifteen seconds." His answer lasted exactly fifteen seconds. --Frederic Rzewski

Tshikona is lwa-ha-masia-khali-i-tshi-vhila, "the time when people rush to the scene of the dance and leave their pots to boil over." Tshikona "makes sick people feel better and old men throw away their sticks and dance." Tshikona "brings peace to the countryside...." It is an example of the production of the maximum of available human energy in a situation that generates the highest degree of individuality in the largest possible community of individuals. --John Blacking on the Venda (South African) national dance



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