Blake Advises Third Stream Composers

Feel More, Write Less

Ran Blake, composer and chairman of the Music Department of the New England Conservatory of Music, told composers to listen more and write less, during his lecture on "Third Stream Music."

The fifth speaker in the summer Thursday Speakers Series, Blake defined "Third Stream Music" as "a beautiful strand of two different musical styles," and added that the road to success in the new stream comes with listening to sounds of music and not just following notes on paper.

The "Third Stream," Blake said, is nothing new. The phrase was first used by Gunther Schuler in the '50s to describe any musical piece created by blending two or more distinctively different musical styles.

A common synthesis that makes a "Third Stream" piece, Blake said, is one that blends elements of classical style, such as Bach, with elements of jazz, such as Duke Ellington. But it could also be created in less obvious ways, such as in combinations of Bartok's style with ethnic Greek rhythms.

The way to success in this kind of music, and in composing in general, he added, "is to learn music at the very first from the ear, not from the note." Schools should teach music students to "stretch their ears," to be creative and to "internalize" sounds instead of just writing them down, he said. However, he concluded, "we are today turning out a tremendous number of improvisors who are robots."

To remedy the problem, Blake proposed that serious composition students stretch their "ear memory" by listening to all kinds of music, then learning to "feel" music sounds by selective listening.

"There are hundreds of black Gospel singers in churches around here where one can go for beautiful Gospel style," he said. "In the Shawmut area there are juke boxes with Syrian music, and right here at Harvard there are some brilliant composers of avant garde...any differing styles of music will do," he added.

"Then you've got to become selective," he said. "You have to learn to 'feel' particularly good sounds, such as the jazz sound of Billie Holiday, or the Pentacostal sounds from the line of Aretha Franklin... or the Blues of John Lee Hooker," he added.

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The composer will discover music as a mood, Blake concluded, so that a whole range of possibilities becomes possible. Blake finished his lecture by playing one of his own compositions on the piano, "Arlene," and said that his own favorite composer is Thelonius Monk.

To remedy the problem, Blake proposed that serious composition students stretch their "ear memory" by listening to all kinds of music, then learning to "feel" music sounds by selective listening.

"There are hundreds of black Gospel singers in churches

To remedy the problem, Blake proposed that serious composition students stretch their "ear memory" by listening to all kinds of music, then learning to "feel" music sounds by selective listening.

"There are hundreds of black Gospel singers in churches around here where one can go for beautiful Gospel style," he said. "In the Shawmut area there are juke boxes with Syrian music, and right here at Harvard there are some brilliant composers of avant garde...any differing styles of music will do," he added.

"Then you've got to become selective," he said. "You have to learn to 'feel' particularly good sounds, such as the jazz sound of Billie Holliday, or the Pentacostal sounds from the line of Aretha Franklin... or the Blues of John Lee Hooker," he added.

The composer will discover music as a mood, Blake concluded, so that a whole range of possibilities becomes possible.

Blake finished his lecture by playing one of his own compositions on the piano "Arlene," and said that his own favorite composer is Theolonius Monk.