Dec 20, 2018

Hermeto Pascoal’s improv lessons

A fascinating article from the Ethnomusicology Review: Notes from the Jabour School: Multidimensional harmonic models for improvisation, composition and arrangement from Hermeto Pascoal’s Grupo in Rio de Janeiro, by Jovino Santos Neto.

You really have to read this yourself, but I'll try to summarize.

Jovino, an articulate writer, discusses his experiences as a young musician playing with Hermeto Pascoal's ensemble, particularly Hermeto's method of teaching improvisation to his musicians. An excerpt:
The first thing that Hermeto taught us when improvising over chords to ‘Campinas’ was to write above each chord symbol a number of triad options. So, if a chord was a C major 7th, we would write the symbols for G, E minor, D and B minor. These triads are components of the C Lydian mode. If a chord was a C minor 7th, we would write the triads Eb, Bb, D minor, F. These are components of the C Dorian mode. For each chord type there are between 2 and 5 triad options to be explored. However, instead of having us learn linear scales and modes, Hermeto would inspire us to create simple, intuitive melodies based on those triads.
This comes across to me as an adaptation of the "substitution by thirds" and "upper structure" approaches. But the last sentence above is essential. 

Jovino goes on to describe his own expansion of this perspective:
Even though we tend to treat chords as individual entities or motionless objects, in reality they connect to and inform all the musical material surrounding them, so it would be more appropriate to consider chords as verbs, (which denote actions), rather than nouns, which denote objects. We can then visualize any chord as a cloud of possible musical actions, with an ‘atmosphere’ of triads surrounding it. I found it convenient to use three dimensional images as a visual aid to enable the multi-sensorial perception of harmony...
...Furthermore, I find that even better than using abstract Platonic solids as sources of imagery for musical reference, we can instead focus on shapes commonly found in Nature. Trees, for instance, can very effective models for conceiving harmonic entities. As land-dwelling beings, we think of trees as stationary objects, but somewhere in the inner core of our brains, we can still visualize trees as stations along a pathway of travel like our canopy-dwelling ancestors.

As I mentioned, you really have to read this article in its entirety. In fact, I think I'll go back and read it a few more times, myself.

Note: Jovino will be presenting a lecture on "The Harmonic Forest: Musical Structures Heard as Trees" on Jan. 21, 2019, at the Seattle Art Museum. Here's a link for ticket information.

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