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Inordinate Affection


An overview of the oboe, with JENNIFER PAULL


How could we summarise the difference between music and noise? In one word, the answer is rhythm. A bird doesn't make noise, it 'sings' a song. Its own individual rhythmical pattern of notes reveals its identity. Their difference in pitch is not enough. Raindrops hitting a tin roof may vary in pitch too. Add an instinct or an imagination to assemble these noise into a rhythmical pattern, and like the bird's song, they become music.

From the earliest moment that man made music, he too used his own voice. When he sought to accompany that voice with something else, our instrumental families were born. Until the coming of the computer, these divisions of rhythmical sound production remained unaltered.

The first bone that was tapped on the back of a gourd or piece of wood or stone was the start of percussion. The first sinew stretched across a sea shell or dried carcass and plucked, became the beginnings of our string music. The first blade of grass blown between the fingers became the first reed. Many variations on these themes took place worldwide, and they have continued throughout our evolution.

The Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1662), is still in use today and was based on Thomas Cranmer's version of 1559. The translation of Psalm 98 (1535, Miles Coverdale) which we find therein includes the following:

'O sing unto the Lord a new song: for he hath done marvellous things... Praise the Lord upon the harp ...With trumpets also with shawms..'

Of course, we can argue about the translations of these words. In different versions of the Psalter, one will find different adaptations. To me, it simply shows that man's efforts to rise above himself and make beauty for the glory of God were already well-imprinted upon the varieties of his self expression.

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Copyright © 18 April 2000 Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland


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