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Some thoughts on dissonance.

In my earlier years as a musician I found that I had a preference for harmony and 'sweet' chords, despite the attempts of my fantastically avante garde composer piano teacher to educate my ear to strange and wonderful chords and structures. I remember learning a very wierd and wonderful dissonant chordal arrangement on piano for 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star'. However, once his influence left my sphere, I turned habitually back to the sounds and pieces I liked, and the compositions I wrote were mostly harmonious in chord structure and melody.

Now, since training as a sound therapist and facilitating Colours We Sing workshops, I have come to value very much the dissonance and the stronger waves of vibration caused by dissonance. The question came to me this morning "how can we learn to appreciate harmony if we first have not embraced our dissonance?". Eating cake all day can make you feel a bit sick. Dissonance can be likened to the way we feel when we meet someone that rubs us up the wrong way. The vibrations seem wrong. However, with consiousness and the desire to grow added to the equation, we can ask "what is it about this person that annoys me?". A good spiritual teacher will tell us that what we cannot accept in another is most probably something we have not yet accepted in ourselves. I think that's why family is such a potent opportunity to grow. Especially parents. We find ourselves, as we get older, beginning to exhibit the very behaviour that we found unsatisfactory in our parents. Can we learn to accept our own 'dissonance?'. We want to behave one way, yet the programmed part of us does the opposite. This is internal dissonance. A clash between the desire of one part of us, and the habitual actions of another part. Perhaps accepting dissonance as sound, and embracing all kinds of intervals and studying the different effects they have on us could be part of the therapy to accept our own dissonance and discover the way to embrace our wholeness and find inner peace.

Last tuesday I was meditating with a colleague. We decided to tone together for a short time. She wasn't a trained singer. We both started together with no expectations. What I found very interesting was that she very quickly ended up singing the interval of a tritone against my note. As she hit the note, she then moved down to the next note, which was more harmonious. I was fascinated by this. For the uninitiated, a tritone is 6 semitones away from the other note. It contains maximum dissonance and it is actually quite hard to get an untrained singer to find this note on purpose. Anyway, so there we were, exploring our sound as a way to drop into meditation.

Now here's where it gets interesting. A tritone interval is considered to be the exact half way of an octave, and creates an eerie dissonance. It could be said to be the exact opposite to the original sound or base note. Now, my colleague and I over the past few weeks had been constantly pulling messages from symbols and cards which indicated we were working with opposing energies, such as sun/moon, fire/water, violet/yellow. And indeed energetically we are also like that. Interesting that sound wise we ended up representing that. It is like we were offering each other opposing perspectives and learning from that.

But the point also is that she was dropping down to the fifth afterwards, creating a sense of perfection. Dissonance to harmony, dissonance to harmony, dissonance to harmony. It was instructional beyond words. Very powerful.

So, I believe that we do have too much harmony in our lives and music. It wasn't until my voicework progressed into sound healing and exploration with groups that I began to understand its value and how dissonance can bring healing, greater understanding, and greater acceptance of the whole. If we only work with the nice sounds, we are only working with the easy stuff. The world is not like that. We need to accept and work with what throws us off balance so we can understand why, and then do something about it. If you read the recent article I have posted, entitled "Dissonance and Drones - A Spiritual Perspecive" it discusses the subject in more detail. This was an official paper I wrote in 2007 for my Masters degree. Happy dissonance! x Karen

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