Guess the Mystery Musician

Enter Our Mystery Musician Contest!
Guess the Mystery Musician. Send in your answer by April 15, 2010. All correct answers will be pooled and the winner will be determined by a drawing. The winner will receive a Gramercy Trio T-shirt.

To enter, please email us with your quiz answer and your name at

Another option is to send in a mystery of your own! If your mystery musician entry is chosen for the next contest, we will send you a Gramercy Trio T-shirt.

Current Mystery Musician Contest

Our newest mystery musician was a true iconoclast. ‘X’s parents were missionaries living in China at the time X was born. They moved constantly throughout X’s childhood, living in isolated areas of the American southwest, so X was exposed to a wide variety of influences from Asian to Native American.

The habit of wandering stayed with X for quite some time…. X was even a hobo for a while. Most of all, X was a composer and innovative theorist who questioned the very basis of Western Art Music. At age 29, X collected all the works X had written over the past 14 years and burned them, because they were based on the “tyranny of the piano” and the 12 tone scale. X considered what was being called “American music” as just a cheap imitation of European convention and style. X felt that these rules shouldn’t be accepted in an unquestioning manner. Instead X forged a new music based on just intonation, with its expanded melodic and harmonic possibilities.

As X explored this new approach, creating original texts based on everything from Greek mythology to personal experience as a hobo, the need for new sounds led X to create dozens of incredible instruments. One of these is a marimba with only 4 bars, the largest being 8 feet long! X criticized concert traditions, the circumscribed roles of the performer and composer, the role of music in society, the 12-tone equal-temperament scale and the concept of “pure” or abstract music. X created music dramas, dance theater, multi-media extravaganzas, vocal music and chamber music-— mostly to be performed on original instruments.

Here are some quotations:

“I’ll take a step further and try to get away from what I call the curse of specialization. Specialization — a dancer is just a dancer; a musician is only a musician — is self-defeating because it denies fulfillment. I want my musicians, at least occasionally, to get out on the stage floor and become a moving, playing chorus.”

“It has been said in public print that if my ideas were to become dominant in music schools, it would be the end of music as we know it. May I say it first, that the danger is singularly slight. All or beyond this, the implication is that music be monolithic — that whatever is decided by the majority or the most powerful must be adhered to by everyone. This idea is totally outside the thrust of Western civilization which has prided itself for over 2,000 years, off and on, in the concept of allowing strong individualism without alienation.

Monoliths are just dandy in stone. They do not belong in the world of ideas, to be sure.”

“Meaningfulness must have roots. It is not enough to feel that one’s roots extend back only a decade of a century. It is my strong belief that the human race has known and abandoned magical sounds, visual beauty, and experienced ritual more meaningful than those now current. I must therefore decline to limit the dimensions of my rather intense beliefs by the modernly specialized word “music.”

I believe devoutly that this specialty must become less specialized for the sake of its own survival. The experimental, ritualistic, dramatic area has constituted a very large part of my belief and work; and as for imaginative and sculptural forms of instruments, I have easily given as much time to this endeavor as to intonation.”

“Long ago I said to myself, I think life is too precious to spend it with important people. There are so many plays for status and selling; but one gets among a group of hobos, or among transient orchard workers and right away, there’s a human contact. It doesn’t mean that they always like each other, but there’s a human contact without this fighting for place constantly. It’s just a little sidelight on why I felt it necessary during the Depression to be a hobo and take a pack on my back.

When I was a hobo (in the 30’s and early 40’s), I began studying hobo speech. I had been studying the speech around me, and this is what I wanted to make it — not this strange language that is sung by people in operas and on the concert stage.”

“As for the music itself, it is almost always a dramatic idea. I can’t think of more than two, maybe three of four small things that I have done as studies … that is to say, a study just to use musical materials. There is always an idea.

I have never in my life built an instrument or conducted an acoustical experiment simply for the purpose of solving a problem in acoustics or musical theory. Never. Everything grew together. That is to say, if I had an idea for an instrument, I also had an idea for music for that instrument.”

“Ancient peoples in many parts of the world knew musical numbers. Modern man, including modern American music schools, persist in not knowing musical numbers. On the contrary, though my lifetime, I have seen how they jealously guard their precious misconceptions and this, ironically, in a so-called scientific age. Part of the time, I shall translate the accurate language of numbers into the current nomenclature of mumbo-jumbo. Most of the time, I shall not.

The word “octave”, for example, is a palpable imprecision. I shall continue to use octave to describe a physical distance on the modern keyboard. I shall not use it to indicate that oral quantity but rather the correct term, the ratio 2:1.

The monophonic scale, if conceived as a scale, is not equal. There are no equal aural increments between successive degrees. This is not possible in any system of just intonation. The largest interval between degrees is indicated by fast beats, the smallest by slow beats.”

“Equal temperament is a current habit as is also the scope for modulation which it allows. Composers can think only in equal temperament for just one reason: because it is all they have got to think in. Music systems are made valid — and workable — by significant music…, and I would add to this right now, that music systems that are not made valid by significant music are so many scraps of paper in a whirlwind.”

“…. it has been repeated for years, probably centuries by theorists who have never made an experiment in their entire lives, that just intonation is musically impractical because it does not allow a tone to be taken in more than one sense. This is sheer poppycock.”

“A great deal has been said about quartertones, about cutting each from its own exactly in half creating 24 tones to the octave. This would not give us acoustic intervals. On the contrary, so far as I can see, it would simply provide material for a 24-tone row. And I feel that this is one thing the world can easily do without.

I have said many times, and I am by no means the first to say it … that 12-tone equal temperament not only slams doors against any further investigation of consonance, but it also slams doors in the entire balance of the temple against any further investigation of dissonance. Dissonances in the monophonic systems of just intonation are entirely different servings of tapioca.”

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