Knowing What Kind of Man Composed the Music

Chinese Zither (Photo Credit

Chinese Zither (Photo Credit

SKF NOTE: Years ago I read a story of Confucius studying music. The story is at the end of this blog entry. (As I write I cannot recall either the book author or title. I will update this blog post when I do.)

Developing, as Confucius did, the ability to know “what kind of man composed the music,” by practicing the piece of music captured my imagination upon first reading.

That intuition, as I interpret this story, is the last step in mastering music. The first step is mastering the melody, then the rhythm, then the mood, and finally “what kind of man composed the music.”

Am I there yet? No. I can often identify musician’s by their sound. Once, while listening to Joe Zawinul playing solo during a Weather Report concert, my intuition was that he was playing impressions of his life as an Austrian child during World War II. When the song and the applause ended, Mr. Zawinul announced the song. It was, he said, impressions of his World War II childhood.

Ed Soph tells about listening with David Liebman to a tape of a concert Ed played with Joe Henderson and Wayne Darling. When the concert tape ended, Liebman said, “You took a trip to Barcelona.” Soph was blown away. The concert had, in fact, been taped in Barcelona, but Soph had said nothing about it.

“How do you know that?” Soph asked Liebman in response to his “trip to Barcelona” comment. Liebman answered that he, Liebman, had been to Barcelona. And he was hearing in what Joe Henderson and the others were playing, sounds he knew were impressions of Barcelona.

I don’t know if Confucius or Music-Master Hsiang Tze always knew “what kind of man composed the music.” But I still think aiming for that level of musical intuition is a positive, worthy goal.


The Story

Confucius learned from the Music-Master, Hsiang Tze, to play the zither. For ten days, Confucius made no progress. The Music-Master, Hsiang Tze, said: “We will try something else.”

Confucius said: “I have practised the melody, but I have not yet acquired the rhythm.” After a time, the Music-Master said: “Now that you have practised the rhythm, we will proceed.”

Confucius said: I have not yet caught the mood.” After a while, the Music-Master spoke again: “Now that you have practised the mood, we will proceed.”

Confucius said: I have not yet ascertained what kind of man composed the music.” After a time the Music-Master said: “You are so serious and sunk in thought. You are so cheerful, so full of high hopes, and of an open mood.”

Confucius said: “No I know who he is. Dark and black, tall and large. His eyes are those of a ram looking into the distance; his mind is that of a king of the four quarters of the earth. If it was not King Wen, who else could have composed anything like this?”

Then the Music-Master, Hsiang Tze, arose from his mat, bowed twice, and said: “According to the tradition of the Music-Masters, it is actually repurted to be a melody by King Wen.”


About scottkfish
This entry was posted in Revisiting My Life in Music and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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