[Smt-talk] Forward and Backward Root Movements

Darryl White darryl.musico at gmail.com
Sun May 6 14:12:46 PDT 2012


Walt Everett said:

"So I would agree that specific cultural contexts and stylistic behaviors
may inform our understanding of usage, but would argue that deeper, more
universal understandings are not necessarily violated, and that this case
does not constitute an "exception" to normative absolutes."

Walt has only added more urgency to Paul Siskind's main point. Nothing can
be "necessarily" violated--or confirmed, for that matter--in the harmonic
domain, unless the "deeper, more universal understandings" and "normative
absolutes" have already been established. That they have been for Walt (and
perhaps others of like mind) is obvious, but that changes nothing when it
comes to the ongoing challenges of harmonic conceptualization. Walt's
language exemplifies the problem that Paul is addressing, only in the
second order, for now the argument for harmonic norms is virtually
unaffected by any context, and is put beyond the reach of doubt or review.

Walt gives a "yes and no" answer to Paul's appeal to context; but I have a
hunch that the deeper will crowd in upon the shallower when it comes to
analytical description, and the general direction of interpretive

One is free to believe whatever about norms, or the lack of norms. But, if
one believes, as I do, that more remains to be said on the fascinating
subject of harmony in music, it is likely that other enlightening
perspectives will be missed by inflexibility of conception. It is helpful
to look outside one's tradition for new ways of seeing. Since popular music
is 'outside' the common practice, as conceptualized in many a school of
music, it is all the more surprising that a confession of faith in
absolutes should come within a discussion of the blues.

Thankfully, the diversity of opinions expressed on the List indicates that
there is not unanimity within the musical community on these matters, nor
is there likely to be. Diversity is an asset for us (since it is not
science we are doing but art). One might wish that opinions on the various
topics that we discuss were expressed in a language less dogmatic. The air
of certainty surrounding many of the comments I have read here does not
represent us well, as a community of scholars, nor reflect the actual state
of our knowledge.

Paul mentions Faure. The difficulties we encounter, when it comes to
understanding harmonic usage, in Faure and so many others, is precipitated
in large measure by attempts to apply "norms." Chronic difficulties ought
to at least lead us to consider other approaches. A battle hard-fought is a
source of satisfaction; but is it worth fighting the music to make a schema
fit the facts, when little is really accomplished but a display of the

Darryl White
Ph.D. student
University of Arizona
School of Music
Tucson, AZ
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