Re-Composing My Self.
THIS POST IS DEDICATED TO ALL MY TEACHERS, THOSE THAT I KNOW, KNEW, FORGOT, DIDN’T NOTICE, AND THOSE THAT ARE YET TO COME.
With this article, I invite you to take part in an experience. Before you continue reading beyond the line below, you may want to view the video above and listen to my latest composition. After, read this article in full, and then listen again. See if the music changes your emotions before and after knowing any details about the composition, its background, meaning, etc.
Following your first listen, I will now explain why I got inspired, how I went about the actual composing process, and what I felt before, during, and after the fact.
Since times immemorial, music has had the power to hold people captive as much as it could release them. Maybe creation itself at its core is musical, or perhaps it’s because no other form of art can both create new feelings and release old emotions at the same time, thus making it an effective agent for change, metamorphosis or even transmutation.
I grew up as a performing artist1, giving concerts as a solo pianist and chamber musician and can only express my deepest gratitude to my parents and teachers for giving me the opportunity to capture some of life’s deepest secrets music has to offer.
Many years ago, one of my teachers shared a remarkable story when her husband Antal Doráti2 in July 1988, together with musicians from 23 countries, undertook a concert tour for peace that is still unique in the history of music: within one week they performed Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis"3 with musicians from East and West in Berlin, Moscow, Dresden and London.4
More than 200 million people in the East and West experienced the performances on radio and television. At a time well before social media and when there was still not a TV in every home or a cell phone in every pocket, just imagine how such a concentrated effort could have impacted the minds of audiences in both East and West.
Perhaps the vibrations of this immense manifestation of intent significantly contributed towards the diplomatic peace efforts leading up to the end of the cold war, the closure of the Iron Curtain, and the reunification of Germany.
Where are efforts like these in the world we live in today? If music has that much power, why do we then not use it (more) as a force for good?
I always dreamt of composing, but was never a great composer. Though I had a fantastic teacher in the subject at university, I’m embarrassed to admit that I was lazy on that side and never took up the opportunity to really study with him properly. Composition for me, after all, was more of a “side subject” compared to my focus on the performance side and building up companies as an entrepreneur.
Interestingly though, Covid (as one of the great collective crisis all of us experienced in recent years) challenged me to deal with my anxiety, uncertainties, fears and other mixed emotions just like everyone else, and so in music I found my solitude, my ally and, most importantly, a different space-time-perspective. However, having not played piano for a while, I found it frustrating having to re-learn the pieces of the old masters, which a few years earlier I was still able to play near perfection.
Instead, I applied myself at composing and with it, came out of the fear and the uncertainty of the early Covid days, using quotes from those well known musical pieces I used to play, connecting them with each other whilst leveraging an underlying theme out of a science-fiction Star Trek5 movie to capture an unknown situation:
My first realization was that it’s relatively easy to compose variations of something that’s familiar to you and/or using a theme which truly captivates or inspires you. You’ll end up quickly whistling a number of options, and all you need to do then is to bring your inner sound vision on to either paper, your instrument, a computer, or simply hit record and sing it out loud.
Given these are typically “short term memory” captures (sometimes by way of an invisible force or intuitive muse), the challenge I faced initially was to clearly hold the music in my mind long enough, before I was able to actually express it naturally on the piano. There is always this passing moment of time, where if you don’t catch the phrase fully right then and there, it may be gone forever. The other difficulty I faced was to actively notice when to “stop inventing” (i.e. to stop finding other versions of the same motif), because the variant I got was (according to my standards and my feeling) “perfect”. I found this to be one of the hardest aspects in the process of composing as “when do you truly know that something is final the way it is”?
Whilst “composing” those variations in 2020, it was as if the music itself spoke to me, projecting a space beyond time showing its different potentialities unfolding. Yet it was as if I were able to capture all of future history’s possible outcomes in a single theme right now. It was probably the first time I truly realized the grand beauty and mastery of classical music, its variety of meanings, different interpretations and why it’s kind of a multiverse of perception to those making an effort to tune in. — Toby Ruckert
The experience of “composing” literally aided me in “composing” myself emotionally and mentally during the initial lockdowns, but even more intriguing — three years later, much of what I felt the music expressed to me back then (if not all), has actually come true. Perhaps within the musical arts (I would include dance here as well) there is a magical ability to cross into different domains (such as time), simply via feeling.
With the advent of 2021, I was less worried about myself or my family, but I got concerned about the divisions in society, which started to run all the way through large nations, small communities, closely knit families, and sometimes even the individual minds of people themselves.
I talked with friends and ended up writing about it, but this didn’t provide much intellectual peace, comfort, satisfaction or clarity. Finally I decided to try put my worries at ease by taking on yet another composition, daring to find answers to the question: “why is there so much dissonance in the world?”6
Meet the “Tritone”
Not realizing it during the act of composing, eventually my efforts resulted in the deeper study of the Tritone, also called “The Devil's Interval”7. Without revealing the entire composition yet, simply listen to the following section which normally sounds dissonant.
However, if we leverage just enough Tritones prior to this normally dissonant tune, you’ll be suprised to suddenly identify inharmony as a welcoming resolution (pay special attention at 0:50 which is when the Tritones are introduced and then again from 1:08 to the end — which is the same tune I’ve just posted as a video above):
Understanding musically what was starting to go on in the world’s mind at large was my way of dealing with the “Cognitive Dissonance”8 we all experienced, and, which some of us are still victims of today.
If music could have that much influence (e.g. when even a simple interval can change our perception from what’s dissonant to what’s perceived as harmonious), and being inspired by Antal Doráti’s success with the concert tour for peace in 1988, I couldn’t help but wonder if I should try to compose something with a clear intention to overcome the recently strong divisions in the human family.
I then suddenly remembered my professor at university whom I had asked at the end of my studies what was the most difficult piece he had come across in his piano career. He said: “The People United Will Never Be Defeated!” — a set of (highly complex) variations by composer Frederic Rzewski9 on Sergio Ortega and Quilapayún’s Chilean resistance song “¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!”:
I recommend you to listen to the original theme right now and try to memorize the melody. The key message of the English version is:
THE PEOPLE UNITED WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED.
Now back to our little experiment.
If you go and listen to the video I posted at the beginning of the article again, fully well knowing the background of the piece, its intention, purpose and that you’re ready for your very own participation towards the end — by singing out loud and feeling this message — you’ll have an entirely different perspective and experience with this composition, guaranteed.
Before publishing this post, I showed the composition to a few friends and started researching the healing powers of music to understand more about its ability to re-align ourselves with what we might have lost, be it health, unity or simply harmony.
In a certain form of Chinese calligraphy, the characters10 for “Music” and “Medicine” are almost alike. Taking the top line (which indicates nothing but “Grass” — depicting the more specific meaning of “Herbal” to Medicine) of the second character away, both become identical:
楽 = Music
薬 = (Herbal) Medicine
In Ancient China music had the power to harmonize a person in ways that medicine could not. One of music’s earliest purposes was for healing. During the time of the Great Yellow Emperor (2698–2598 B.C.E.), people discovered the relationship between the pentatonic scale, the five elements, and the human body's five internal and five sensory organs. During Confucius's time, scholars used music’s calming properties to improve and strengthen people’s character and conduct.11
There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres. — Pythagoras
Pythagoras used intervals of harmonic ratios as a type of medicine for "dis-eases" of the body, the emotions and the Soul. He aimed to “align Souls to their divine nature” and through music performed what he called, "Soul Adjustments". This could explain why music is heavily used by propaganda to create the opposite effect as well.12
Music can bring back memories of events, people and places from our past easily — the experience is known as a music-evoked autobiographical memory. Reconnecting us with these self-defining moments, it could be a perfect tool to re-align ourselves13.
Today, scientific research has also validated music’s therapeutic ability to lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, enhance concentration, stabilize heart rate, and more. With Cymatics now available for research in the form of modern instruments, it’s only a matter of time until many assumptions are proven scientifically.
After completing my latest composition, I stumbled across more mysteries I need to follow up on. For instance, why did I intuitively choose a “Tarantella” rhythm? I never knew its deeper meaning or even played such a piece before. More on that later.
I also started to wonder whether composers are in-tuned (like a radio to a radio station) whilst writing their pieces, given they couldn’t have known the shape of songs and their visualized structure:
But how would this actually work? Who is the sender (radio station) and where in our physiological and mental systems are the receiving antennas? How come only some of us seem to be able to “tune in”?
The answers to these questions will have to wait. But I hope you enjoyed this piece, will listen to it again, sing it out loud, share it with your friends, and if you’d like the sheet music to play it by yourself, just sign up as a premium subscriber and I’ll be happy to share it with you. There is also going to be a real world concert premiere of the compositions mentioned here to which Founding Members will be invited.
In the meantime I hope you have found your very own creative liberation from the many conscious manipulations out there, whether its in the form of music, or otherwise. Do feel free to share in the comments for the benefit of others, too!
My very best, as always,
Beethoven was one of those geniuses who could say “no”. In fact, given the context of composing his Missa Solemnis, it might surprise you that he never went to church and abstained from the social rituals of state religion, considering faith a “private matter”.
IPPNW stands for “International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War”. You may also enjoy Antal Doráti’s Pater Noster and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis from the recordings at IPPNW Concerts (the group which had also organized the tour in 1988).
Perhaps it’s creation’s way of saying “let’s see humanity, how far you’ve come and where you stand in this century". Given the Subliminal Messaging and the huge publicly documented manipulations which have happened to betray each other, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a recurring situation mankind is faced with every 100 years or so, just compare the centenary occuring pandemic situations we’ve faced in recorded history in 1720, 1820, 1920 and more recently, 2020.
During the Renaissance, there were rules against writing music that contained this interval as music had the principal purpose of being beautiful and expressing the majesty of God. Anything else was avoided with the utmost care and even banned by religious authorities.
Cognitive Dissonance is the mental discomfort that results from holding two (or more) conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes. In his 1957 book "A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance," Leon Festinger (the psychologist who first described this phenomenon) suggested that people have an inner need to ensure that their beliefs and behaviors are consistent. Conflicting beliefs lead to disharmony, which people strive to avoid.