The language used to discuss music often reveals the subtle, profound, and even spiritual underpinnings of this mystic art, which in our daily wrangling can seem a mundane and predictable craft, with finite and predictable parameters. By looking at wording in precise degree, I will try to present some insights into music that might not be readily evident, otherwise, and reveal some wizards behind the curtains of house style.
A quick example: chord symbols. Berklee Press holds the following stylistic practice about how to render altered fifths: C7b5, not C7(b5).
What’s interesting about the decision to omit parentheses, as we would have on C7(9), is that at Berklee, the flat-5 is not considered a tension. It is considered a core note of the chord. Setting it in parentheses would suggest that it is more of an optional flavor, than a fundamental characteristic. No, here, life is all about that crazy dissonance.
Chatting about parentheses is how I torture people, all day long, in my work managing Berklee Press. Similar issues frequently cross my desk that lead to some fascinating explorations of music. As a publisher, we have to be careful, because our books are often perceived as sets of “rules,” and particularly books published by Berklee are often held to be definitive works on their subjects. And that’s how we want it.
Funny story, I was once scouting consensus on some other seemingly mundane issue, and the process brought me to the office of one of the Berklee department chairs. I asked what he thought the proper way to render something was, and to answer my question, he grabbed a book from his shelf, which he considered the “definitive reference” on the topic.
What he didn’t know is that I was actually the editor of the book he grabbed.
That act shook my foundations, regarding books, and I have replayed that scene of him reaching up to the shelf for a Final Word, over and over, in my head. Sheesh, if books that were my responsibility were to be considered “definitive,” I’d better take this mission of establishing best practice and consensus very carefully! And, of course, from that moment forward, I haven’t believed a word I’ve read on any subject. I mean, Hell, it could have been written by someone like me!
But his reaching reiterated for me that our books are permanent articulations of Berklee pedagogy and international ambassadors of what we teach here. As such, we try to be persnickety about language and stylistic choices, as do all responsible publishers. Obviously, clarity is a top priority. But beyond clarity, we try to reflect the campuswide consensus on values and approaches to music, and “best practice” regarding what to teach and how to present ideas. As you might guess, this is often a complex charge, for the local cats have varying opinions regarding pretty much every topic, from articulations to Zydeco….
I do regularly poll them, though, and I am fortunate to have worked closely enough with over a hundred Berklee faculty members, whom I can bug to ask about this or that. I find that they frequently are eager to share strong opinions on the minutest of details—as if they were just itching to be asked, for years and years.
In editing their books, we discuss some of their deepest held beliefs and technical practices about their craft. Many of these educators are performing artists who have achieved worldwide acclaim as musicians. Some are hit-song writers, some are Grammy-award winners, and more are teachers of Grammy award winners. They all have profound insights to share about music.
When helping them write about what they are doing, I can press them hard on details, and get them to articulate their thoughts to an unusually precise degree. From these discussions will come many of the topics that I plan to focus on here.
In this blog, I will articulate some of the personal/professional/musical journeys I’ve embarked on, in my role here. I plan to cover a lot of ground: terminology, concepts, stylistic preferences, and perhaps also technical concepts in manuscript preparation. Feel free to post here any thoughts, feedback, or suggestions for topics I might address.
Please see what I write here, though, as my own personal statements, rather than a voice of the college. So many of the fascinating stories behind some of our books haven’t made it public. I’ll try to give my own personal perspective both to our catalog and also to some of the pedagogical choices we’ve made in how to write about music, and hope that it provides some insight and entertainment.