Green tea and the harmonic series

One of my favourite early morning rituals is going to my local coffee house next to Brixton station and having a huge mug of green tea. I sit at the same table with a heavy book and other regulars come up and talk to me. One of them is Michael who works in a large department store. He’s handsome, with a fine line in suits and the latest version of B&O headset around his neck and a vast and eclectic library of music on his MP3 player.

Yesterday he mentioned a TV series Leonard Bernstein made for young people. We marvelled at how brilliantly L B managed to communicate the inner workings of musical language in a way that was understandable and mind opening for everyone. Michael happened on it by chance about 15 years ago and I remember coming across it in my twenties. 

The show that stood out for me was the one where, if I remember correctly after thirty years, he played a low bass note on the piano and demonstrated how all the notes of the diatonic scale emanate from this one note and how the nodes of the harmonics naturally divide up the string to imply the tonic to dominant relation that is the basis of western classical music. And then how you take five notes of the diatonic scale to form the pentagon scale which is the same pattern used in Blues, Chinese, Hungarian in fact nearly every kind of folk music across the world. And all that originating from the harmonic series which emanates from one bass tone.

This morning I heard some exotic noise on Radio 3 through the bathroom wall.

It’s John Cage’s birthday!




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