BREAKFAST WITH JEREMY SIEPMANN
Breakfast Meeting of the Chopin Society of Hong Kong
YMCA Salisbury, Monday (31 October 2011)
As with previous instalments of The Joy of Music Festival, the Chopin Society of Hong Kong’s annual Breakfast Meeting was another meeting of minds, bringing people from all over the globe for a friendly and spirited pow-wow. Veteran writer, broadcaster and teacher Jeremy Siepmann was back with another erudite and thought-provoking lecture, with the unusual title From Sigh to Scream (or the Meter as Murderer).
He could have easily spoken for four hours on the subject on “Why music matters”, but he limited it to a quarter of that. Very often music can express what words cannot, but it can also mimic speech patterns, and that is the basis of how “music can imitate all the physical manifestations of emotional and spiritual life”. We are born with rhythm in our cells. The first thing we hear is the comforting heartbeat of our mothers. Even our heartbeat is not static and unvarying, but one in triple rhythm, possessing an upbeat, the momentary beat itself and an after-beat, the speed of which varies according to our mood and adrenaline status. Even a newborn’s first cry or scream follows in that pattern. These aspects, uniting life and music, are universal.
Early music was based on speech patterns, but with the advent of polyphony, the meter (hence bar-lines in musical notation) came into being. Siepmann lamented on how strict timing in all musical notation had “murdered” the natural rhythm and inflection of speech itself. Mister Alberti (of the Alberti bass) was named as the chief perpetrator and defendant on the dock. He gave several examples in Nigerian poetry, Lionel Hampton’s doodling on the keyboard, as well as how certain of his piano students could benefit from converting the played notes from a score into spoken poetry. He also touched on the limitations of music criticism, and how subjective views can get when listening to a same piece of music performed by different artists but heard in a different order.
This summary will never do justice to the actual event, and I cannot remember when the last time I heard a speaker pack in so much in such a short space of time. But now I do, it was Siepmann himself in the breakfast meeting three years ago! Here are some pictures of the lucky people who attended!