Great Music – Chapter 7
In today’s Great Music journey, unlike previous journeys into the distant past, we enter the Wayback machine and set the controls to 1967 to hear Procol Harum play “A Whiter Shade of Pale”. Great Music did not die with the passing of the old European White Guys a couple hundred years ago. Modern music can make it in the Great Music portfolio because modern musical instruments not only sound better than the old ones musicians had to play in the distant past but also because modern musician were able to use different rhythms, chords and instruments.
For example during the Classical period of music, there were thousands of rules about what could and could not be done in composing music. The Italian Court was in charge of establishing the rules and the way they controlled musicians was by prohibiting the publication of music that was against the rules. Illustrating this point was Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata where in the first movement Beethoven wanted to play a natural G in a section of the music but that was against the rules because a natural G does not appear in a C# minor scale, the key signature of the piece. Beethoven wanted the music to be published but also wanted the music to be true to his intentions and use a natural G.
So how did Beethoven get around the rules? Being a clever sort of person, the music uses a F instead of a G. Beethoven then designated the F to be a Double Sharp which meant the F had to go up two steps which would make it a natural G. Since the Italians had never thought of such a thing, there was no rule against using a double sharp so the music was published.
Modern musicians do not have to contend with rules, what sounds good to the ear is good enough to be published. The Beatles were one of the first musicians to break all the old rules in every way they could. More about that in a later Great Music article. As a result the 1960’s were full of music that sounded good to the ear but by using synthesizers, like the Moog and Arp Omni, were able to incorporate new sounds that were beyond the capability of old fashioned musical instruments. One of the new instruments was a Hammond B3 organ which is prominently displayed in this song. The B3 uses a Leslie speaker system where the actual speakers rotate at a very fast speed producing a unique vibrato sound.
College music programs in the United States, with the exception of Berklee College in Boston, are very reluctant to give up on their Classical Music focus. Even when discussing modern music, they have to somehow connect it to something written in their beloved distant past. So here is Procol Harum with Whiter Shade of Pale. For comparison purposes also listen to I am Standing One Foot in the Grave by Bach.
For those of you who are too young to have lived through the 1960’s, there is lot of interesting times you missed. Everyone should have the experience of being at a live Jefferson Airplane concert before they die.