This Is Why I Love the Sound of Instruments Tuning

We were in our seats about ten minutes before the show was scheduled to start. Far below, the instrumentalists worked through various parts of the piece they were preparing to perform, warming up their bows and loosening their lips. It was a cacophony of sound.

I leaned over to my date. “They are going to tune soon. It’s one of my favorite parts.”

He looked back at me skeptically. I just smiled. It was okay if he didn’t agree. I looked forward to it at every performance.

I turned my eyes back to the performers dressed in black. They worked for a moment more and then both crowd and musicians fell into a hush as the beautiful concertmaster emerged from side-stage. Her long black gown twirled around her feet at each step. Violin in hand, she approached her seat gracefully, turned to the orchestra, and drew her bow over the A string. As each player tuned to her note, the sound was replicated and swelled through the hall.

To prepare for beauty, the players had to establish order.

When you think about it, all beauty is founded on order. Imagine you are sitting in the concert hall. The musicians pull their instruments out of the cases without tuning. The director steps out and begins conducting, and chaos ensues. What should be beautiful and moving instead causes you to cringe.

This is not what the composer intended. No matter how dissonant certain portions of the piece may be, the composer meant it to be played by a group in tune. There is an expected order underlying even the most chaotic music.

This same principle of underlying order applies to language as well—you see it even in poetry, the most abstract of literary genres, though it may seem doubtful since modern poetry appears to fight wildly against traditional order. Even in doing so, however, it relies on a foundational order: words. The concept of a language that can be understood, even if the overall meaning is hidden, is vital to the existence of all written work. We come to understanding through order; language is not a random system. Even poetry that subverts syntax is formed of words with specific meanings and sounds. Only through real words can poetry achieve beauty.

I’m not claiming that everything founded in order is necessarily beautiful. But I do think that order is a foundational element for much more of life than our postmodern world likes to imagine, and it certainly undergirds the realm of beauty.

I heard a story about an architect who set out to create a post-modern home with no functionality: staircases going to walls, doors opening nothing, columns offering no actual support, and other such useless disordered aspects. He bragged that it was the ultimate relativistic home. One man casually asked if he had used the same random haphazard approach in creating the foundation for the home. Of course he had not. He had given the home a solid foundation. It had to stand.

I think that disorder is neither useful nor beautiful, and that beauty can be realized only within a framework of order. Where order exists, houses can stand, poetry can have meaning, and music can be beautiful.

After the musicians had tuned their instruments, the conductor approached the stage and led the orchestra into the beauties of Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony. I delighted in each crescendo and decrescendo, every pause and clash. It was stunning, and it was ordered.

I leaned towards my date and whispered softly, “Don’t worry—I like this part, too.”

Image by Gigi Tagliapietra via Flickr.

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