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I was downtown the other day to talk to the owner of Opus II, one of the longest standing music and music accessory stores in Kitchener, Ontario. Dave Knarr is a classically trained piano player with an established history in the community and quite a heartfelt enthusiasm about music.
He started his first music store venture, Music Plus, after working at one of the local music stores called Waterloo Music a while back.
In Talks With Dave Knarr Of Opus II
We got to talking about composition. Music is funny because it features somewhat of a duality. On the one side, there are the technical aspects of music and performance theory.
Especially with classical music, the rules are many and can be fairly strict. They govern composition and performance as well as the actual playing and articulation of one’s instrument.
With most classical instruments, there are usually lots of considerations with how the player executes the music, ranging from posture to finger or mouth positions and the correct flow of the specific motions.
Indeed, one can get endlessly technical when it comes to music, and rightfully so, as there is a lot to it. On the other hand, however, is the creative intuition or gut feeling of the performer.
This is the other half of the puzzle, and the so called “garage band” side of things. It’s the musician’s daringness to break the rules and to think instinctively instead of following the blueprint.
It’s powered by passion more so than the strict rationale of theory, and much unlike its blueprint counterpart that resides quietly in books and lectures, the gut feeling is found only in the moment.
As one can expect, the musical experience isn’t complete without both sides playing into each other, and neither would make full sense without its counterpart.
How can anything new come about if all is confined to the strict rules? Conversely, however, breaking the rules would not even be possible if there were no rules in place to begin with.
You have to have a bit of both, and a skillful harmonization of both is the recipe for captivating one’s audience.
The Rigours And Rewards Of Opera
Interestingly enough, the deeply rooted dichotomy of music manifests broadly in the different types of music scenes out there. He told me a couple of things about opera, which I found fairly fascinating.
Naturally, putting on a proper opera demands quite a deal of infrastructure, ranging from the venue and equipment, to the massive number of performers involved and the logistics of tying it all together. However, this is so much so that they usually cycle through only a handful of performances.
The setup is so demanding that professional opera singers would train intensively over great periods of time exclusively for one specific role in one specific piece.
Dave compared it to athletes in training for the olympics. They would spend countless hours training for just one feat of excellence, but in such a way that ensures they are the absolute best at it.
If you are involved in making opera music, you know all this. Serious operatic singers put your general rock singers to shame in most cases, when you compare the amount of training that goes into one art form and the other.
That is, unless you’re one of those rock singers who trains extensively, but let’s be honest – most rock singers work more off the cuff, whereas this cannot be done with opera.
Let’s take a listen to some all-time great arias to get us in the opera-loving mood, and certainly you will be able to hear that a well-executed operate aria is not something that can be performed without proper training, but also sufficient passion.
Formality And Feeling
Overall, an opera is a production that puts a heavy emphasis on the technical side of things, and makes a stunning spectacle out of the precision and skill involved at every level of the performance.
Unsurprisingly, going to the opera is always quite a formal event. There is another side to the spectrum, however.
The other side is pulling up to a driveway full of people hanging out in a circle, chatting and smoking, followed by the unmistakable descent into a damp basement packed full of punk rock bands ready to blast distorted chords much louder than would ever be reasonable. As I’m sure many know, there is little to no emphasis on technique in this context.
In fact, everything is flipped over on this end of things. The environment is casual but packed dense with feeling. The grand venue is an otherwise unnoticeable residence at the edge of a suburb.
The sold out house is a full 30 to 40 people. The program handed out to audience members is in the form of crumpled up band flyers and scratched up home recorded CDs.
There is so much contrast between a formal musical event and a typical “rock show”, yet both of these extremes and every possible combination in between are part of the same sphere of musical experience that people create for themselves.
The duality of feeling versus technique isn’t stuck as one single person’s stylistic decision while playing, but rather spreads among musicians as they band together, extending through the performance venue and ultimately being received and felt by the crowd.
Music Is Math
Among all of the above, however, there is one thing that seems to be a constant, namely mathematics. It acts as a force that ensures the dialogue between the two parts is always understood and that the fine tango between them is possible.
The reason it works out is because music theory is actually quite mathematical. Between all the different scales, chords, notes, and time notations, music is made up of logical building blocks which can be assembled into statements.
The mathematical base is what allows musicians to click in with each other during the creative process. Either when following technique or when the gut feeling kicks in, it is the math that allows a player to navigate and stay on track.
Even more importantly, it’s the math that allows musicians to communicate with each other during performance and be aware of what everyone in the group is doing.
Wrapping Things Up
It can be quite a ride, and it’s no shock to see that a lot of people who work in science, math and technology fields have had at least some connection with music throughout their lives.
Rightfully so, this applies to a number of people Dave has played with as well. It’s all about the balance…and the dialogue between the feeling and the technique. As he put it, “that’s music….but that’s life too!”