Music professor and composer Delvyn Case gave a refreshing and informative talk yesterday afternoon about the music of the Beatles. The talk, of course, was part of the Dorchester Historical Society’s lecture series.
What do I hear you saying? That the Beatles never had anything to do with Dorchester? Well, maybe not — but Peggy Mullen’s introduction made it clear that they had a lot to do with the personal memories of many of the members of the society, since we tend to be mostly of that generation. So no direct Dorchester connection, but still…
Even though I’ve listened to all of the Beatles’ songs — most of them many times over the past five decades — I’ve given almost no thought to their musical structure. With rare exceptions I simply enjoyed them (or not, as the case may be) without conscious analysis. So it was illuminating to hear Prof. Case explain the rhythmic and melodic structures of half a dozen (mostly very early) Beatles songs. Let’s look forward to his book on this subject, which will no doubt appear some day (no projected date given).
The talk largely focused on issues of musical expectation, tension, and resolution — with attention to the lyrics where relevant, although most of the focus was on the music. It had a side effect of making me realize why I find a lot of jazz and almost all ballet pretty meaningless. With many genres of music — such as “classical,” folk, pop, Gilbert and Sullivan (is that a genre?), opera, musicals, and the lighter forms of rock — I at least have an unconscious sense of structure that allows for the needed expectation, tension, and resolution. So it totally made sense to me what Case was describing, even though I could never have come up with it myself. But when I try to listen to jazz or watch a ballet, it all seems arbitrary to me: one development is as likely as another, so nothing is anticipated and nothing is a surprise.
There’s actually a connection here with teaching and learning math, but I’m going to have to give that some more thought. Stay tuned; I’ll have something to say on that subject soon.