Thursday, March 29, 2012

W.A. Mathieu

The Musical Life The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music
I first discovered the work of W.A. Mathieu over 15 years ago, when I came across an audio version of The Listening Book at a local library. Mathieu is an American pianist and musical scholar, trained in jazz, classical, Indian and African music. He also has the gift of explaining deep musical concepts in a way that anyone can understand; his mission is to show that music is an essential part of life itself. Those two cassettes I got at the library that day were life changing because they made tangible what I had always felt but never could quite express: that music is everywhere, in everything. The more you get that, the deeper your personal connection to music can be; this can lead to creative and even spiritual awakening. And yet it's as easy as walking down the street.

Harmonic Experience: Tonal Harmony from Its Natural Origins to Its Modern Expression

His next book, The Musical Life continued this train of thought with another set of wonderful short essays on the musical nature of life.

Then came Harmonic Experience, a big music theory text, unlike any other I had ever seen. In it he reconciles ancient and modern music concepts, and teaches how to learn music by balancing intellectual understanding with intuitive experience. It is brilliant, and mind-expanding.

His newest book, Bridge Of Waves, is eloquently summed up on "Music is, in one sense, merely a series of fleeting vibrations that arise and subside. How could it be that something so insubstantial fills us, and calms us, and makes us weep? Because, says W. A. Mathieu, music bridges mind and heart, self and other, and affirms our place in the world. Everyone uses the bridge of music, from casual listeners to devoted professionals. Mathieu's delightful and trenchant prose asks you to question what music is, how it works, and how to understand its value in your life, in the life of your community, and in the evolution of the cosmos."

His writing touches me deeply because I can relate to his belief that the details of music are important, but it is also about experiencing heart-felt emotions and spiritual truths.  And of course it is a source of enormous fun and pleasure. He gets all that, and he writes about it in a conversational style that is easy to absorb, yet is so eloquent it verges on poetry.

I highly recommend that you listen to excerpts from the newly re-mastered "The Listening Book":
Each track is a chapter of the book, read by W.A. himself, and accented by piano interludes composed and played by W.A. Each one is a revelation, and an affirmation.

Essential reading:
The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music
The Musical Life
Harmonic Experience 
Bridge of Waves: What Music Is and How Listening to It Changes the World

Essential listening:
W.A. Mathieu's page at CD BABY

Here's a lovely solo piano piece from his album Lakes and Streams:


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