Joseph Schillinger and music

Michael Stuart Kelly

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Here is part of a post by a new OL member, Dr. Wesley H. Lowe, in the Meet and Greet section about Joseph Schillinger.

Among his illustrious students were included Gershwin, Glenn Miller, John Williams' orchestrator Herbert Spencer and many others. I believe Schillinger found a fundamental approach that allowed analysis and creativity in all valid styles of music, from ethno through jazz. His insights were enormous, and interestingly, when he first started working in this country (he defected when the first Soviet jazz band toured the US with him) he taught design at Columbia University. His Mathematical Basis of the Arts gives some amazing integration of pattern and design in art.  

I have long believed that Schillinger's work could play a role in Rand's description of some of the necessary work to be done in music aesthetics.

I remember reading about this guy in years ago. It was very interesting.

Here are Wikipedia articles on him and his system.

And the official website.

I have long wanted to become more acquainted with this system. Maybe Dr. Wesley can give us a run down of the basics. If not, I will bone up on it and let you all know.

Somehow I have a feeling that this actually will fit in with Objectivist esthetics.


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While we wait for me to delve into this and for Dr. Wesley to work out the standard initial OL log-on problems (sigh - lots of people have had this), I received an email from him that I believe is worth sharing (the part dealing with Schillinger).

Schillinger has suffered from condemnation as well as, at this point of time, complete avoidance, by most music academics. This has been similar to Rand. The problem is that many of Schillinger's proponents have passed away, and their students, although acknowledging and using tools from the Schillinger System, do not teach or discuss them very often.  

I had a friend who taught at Berklee  School of Music in Boston, Mike Metheny. I sat in on one of his classes, and the materials he was teaching was Schillinger. After class I asked him where he received his information and he said that it was just something handed out to him by senior instructors, and he didn't even know it was Schillinger. Of course, Berklee began as the Schillinger House of Music, but the widow took back the name when she decided that the system was not being presented authentically in the early 50s. But this is just one example.  

My background is that I worked with a certified Schillinger teacher, the late Dr. Asher Zlotnik, for over eleven years. He had expanded and refined Schillinger techniques, but was reluctant to do an in-depth analysis of them, partly because the two volumes of the system were not an effective representation of the Schillinger. They were, in fact, notes from his correspondence courses that his widow and publisher Carl Fisher put together after Schillinger's unfortunate early death from cancer.  

Today, with personal computers, some of the tedious aspects of the system could be wonderfully illustrated, and the infusion of fractals and Wolfram's A New Kind of Science could potentially open up some wonderful addition to the system.  

Rand was looking for, in particular, some codification of music semantics. Ironically, the Soviet Union did some very interesting work in this field for the grotesque end of controlling composers. Schillinger offers an incredible approach with a psychological dial based on Weber-Fechner theories of sensation. He integrated the mathematical aspects of music, particularly as found in geometric expression, with this dial, and comes up with a plausible model for music's psychological effect. Schillinger understood well Aristotle's notion that music was motion.

Much more to say on this topic, and there is much work to be done. To find others with an interest, based on Objectivism, is truly a wonderful event.

That will have to do for now. More coming later.

(btw - I went to Boston University, but I played a bit with trombonist Phil Wilson at Berklee during my BU days.)


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