Occasional Notes on Music
by Nigel Nettheim
[This note shows a quite early appearance of the psychology of music in science fiction. It is taken fron Children of the Atom, by Wilmar H. Shiras (1908-1990), New York: Nelson Doubleday, 1953, p.29. This quotation is taken from the first chapter, "In Hiding", which was first published in the November 1948 issue of the magazine Astounding Science Fiction. I thank Roger Cook for drawing it to my attention. This note is dated 1 February 2014.]
(The 13-year old wunderkind Tim is talking to the psychiatrist Welles:)
"How would you like to hear my favourite joke?" he asked.
"Very much," said the psychiatrist, bracing himself for almost any major shock.
"It's records. I recorded this from a radio program."
Welles listened. He knew little of music, but the symphony he heard pleased him. The announcer praised it highly in little speeches before and after each movement. Timothy giggled.
"Very much. I don't see the joke."
"I wrote it."
"Tim, you're beyond me! But I still don't get the joke."
"The joke is that I did it by mathematics. I calculated what ought to sound like joy, grief, hope, triumph, and all the rest, and—it was just after I had studied harmony; you know how mathematical that is."
Speechless, Welles nodded.
"I worked out the rhythms from various metabolisms—the way you function when under the influence of these emotions; the way your metabolic rate varies, your heartbeats and respiration and things. I sent it to the director of that orchestra, and he didn't get the idea that it was a joke—of course I didn't explain—he produced the music. I get nice royalties from it, too."
[This note refers to the paper by I. Hmelnitsky and N. Nettheim, "Weight-bearing Manipulation: A Neglected Area of Medical Science Relevant to Piano Playing and Overuse Syndrome", Medical Hypotheses 23 (1987): 209-17. This note is dated 20 August 2013.]
A brief review appeared in 2002-2004 under the name Gregory Urich at http://www.piano-hands.com/sites.htm. After a positive comment followed this: "[(i)] However, the rest of the article is mostly erroneous suggesting that the tail wags the dog--or rather that '...the hand, wrist and arm are controlled from the distal end, using the small muscles of the hand, and not from the proximal end.' [(ii)] The authors have missed forearm [and, presumably, upperarm] rotation entirely and it's [sic] function as a primary facilitator of transfering the forearm's weight from one finger to another."
My present comments are:
(i) Many people find it difficult to grasp the notion of distal control. Further, it is not likely to be grasped on casual reading, or on the assumption that one already knows what is and what is not erroneous, without feeling a need for any reasoning or argumentation. At http://pianoart.republika.pl/piano_hands.html one can read Mr. Urich's statement: "I developed a repetitive stress injury while working on a piano performance degree and played in pain for 18 years. Only after studying the Taubman technique for a number of years have I come to the point where I can play again, without pain." He evidently settled, after some reading, on the approach of Dorothy Taubman (1917-2013) and then regarded views that did not match hers as "erroneous" without further investigation. (To avoid misunderstanding, I am not seeking to belittle either Mr. Urich or the very successful Mrs. Taubman.)
(ii) Rotation played no part in the piano technique described by Igor Hmelnitsky, the playing action being entirely vertical (straight up and down, as can currently be seen in performance on YouTube). Indeed, he invited notable pianists into his studio and had them play scales in broken octaves — rapid, extended, hands-together — while he video-recorded their playing from three orthogonally-placed cameras; he would then observe their gradually going out of control, lurching from left to right and back again, while attempting the passages using rotation. He laughed, not at the pianists, but with pleasure at the observation of this phenomenon. A remark which may be taken as an endorsement of Hmelnitsky's avoidance of rotation appeared in the program notes by Mordecai Shehori dated October 2012 to his Cembal d'amour CD 170 (complete Chopin Etudes): ". . . in spite of Horowitz's amazing fingers, dexterity and superhuman reflexes, he did not have the skill of rotation in his piano technique . . .". That remark may be read in conjunction with the opening sentence of the article "Horowitz Explains Accenting a Melody While Playing Chords", The Musician, June 1928, p. 11 (http://nettheim.com/horowitz/horowitz28.html): "The first concern of the ambitious student should be to make the mechanics of piano playing a comparatively simple matter...", where one should especially note the word "simple".
My attempts to contact the reviewer Gregory Urich have been unsuccessful, and his page has not been updated since 2004.