From Chopin to The Police. Story of a musical education
Published on the magazine Il Convivio n 72 January/March 2018
My relationship with music dates back to my childhood, when, at the beginning of elementary school, I was induced to study piano by my parents who, according to an old-fashioned perspective, in-conceivable for today’s children, decided the instrument too. I can remember the vague agree-ment I gave them in a summer evening of 70s while I was playing with my mates in the little square where I was growing up. However, I did not have the slightest idea of what I was to face up to: a cursed blessing or rather, a blessed curse.
School started just as the piano lessons did and so, with school homework, those of music training started too. Now-adays, children are generally asked to devote only ten minutes a day to an instrument and if they manage to do it, you think you have achieved your greatest result, and after all it probably is. Once things were different, and I remember of being thrown among Chopin’s first sonatas, from Hanon’s famous exercise book and Bona’s solfeggio handbook with the mandatory rule to practise an hour a day. It wasn’t easy. The longer I went on studying, the heavier my education seemed to become, beyond any possible Montessori scruples. The clock was on the piano and no derogation was al-lowed to the daily prescribed training time (between 5 and 6 p.m., after the homework and before my strolling out). Sometimes when my mother, who used to sit just where the keyboard octaves ended to check my exercises, had to leave I moved the watch hands ten minutes ahead. Notwithstand-ing I am convinced that that training among the greatest harmonies, rhythms and melodies of the greatest classic mu-sicians has availed my musical education and above all my spirit in a crucial way. The importance of music in develop-ing human soul was underlined in Plato’s Republic, where the philosopher lets Socrates say: «The key of education, Glauco, is the musical one, because rhythm and harmony penetrate soul and touch it in the strongest way, giving it el-egance and making who has been correctly educated beauti-ful whereas the contrary happens to the uneducated. Those having a good musical education can sharply perceive what is ugly or imperfect in works of art or in nature and can fairly regret about it. On the other hand, they can approve and welcome in their soul the beautiful things, take advantage of them and become honest men».
As I started middle school and my duties became much more demanding, my parents let me decide whether to continue or stop studying the piano. I still remember that moment as a sort of relief. I gave up. Nevertheless the seed, thanks to which (according to Shelling) in front of the philosopher it opens «the sanctuary where what in nature and history is separated, burns in an eternal and original union», had been planted. Latent but present.
One summer, as a teenager, I spent some days in Padua by my cousins and the flame was bound to revive. In a cor-ner of my cousin’s room there was an acoustic guitar. I didn’t ask any permission and I opened the case. I cannot remember if there were any scores, I can only remember that I started moving my hands on the new keyboard, a finger-board. That of the guitar indeed. However, there must have been some scores, because I spent my Padua week learning the chords of Rocky Racoon, the Beatles’ song. It was a kind of conflict with the new instrument: phalanxes and fingertips against the raw wood, a conflict every inexperienced guitar-ist knows well. However, inside that wood the Muse’s seed had been already carved. I had spent several years learning Chopin, Mozart, Bach and Beethoven. Everything was to emerging and blossom again despite the resistance of the matter. Little by little I started moving my hands on the gui-tar fingerboard. I began to grind chords in the Beatles’ mill. When I came back to Rome I got a guitar. It followed me in those August days at seaside in Taormina. This time it was me who had to look for a teacher in September.
After starting junior high school in Rome, I found out one of those music schools that had already introduced jazz courses in the Capital, at the beginning of the 80s. My par-ents supported my choice, as they had realized that the seed was coming to light and they didn’t expect it. At first I en-rolled in a quite famous school, then in the most important one where jazz was taught and learnt mixed to rock. I fol-lowed my teacher’s advice: Umberto Fiorentino, a man whose guitar skills was directly proportional to his humility, a real Master! He used to make his students work hard, the same hard work he had already experienced to achieve excellence in jazz rock. Indeed it was a jazz rock: the improvi-sation starting from minor esatonic scales until the use of the whole scale of the twelve notes on many of the standards of the jazz masters. The work was hard and I worked hard.
One day, I suddenly realized I was able to master, as if by magic the improvisation on all the fingerboard. I should have kept studying the everlasting modulations the jazz standards require, but I was interested in rock.
Thanks to a high school mate, I had started discovering the Pink Floyd and the Police besides the Beatles: my musi-cal trinity; then it was the turn of Frank Zappa, the Emerson, Lake & Palmer, the Rush, the Queen, the Jethro Tull, Peter Gabriel and David Bowie, Billy Joel, Pat Metheny, to close with the Italians Pino Daniele and Eugenio Finardi. It was in this way, after listening to thousands kilometers of old audio-cassette tapes that the short circuit among piano learning, jazz guitar and rock improvisation took place.
We spent whole evenings in our cars always parked in front of the same little fountain, listening again and again the steps of our music: above all the Police’s bootlegs, and especially the song that has always reached deeply my soul: Bring on the night, whose sound and text inspired the only verses I’ve ever dedicated to a song.
The Indigenous Night of Intimacy
Guitar comes up from a restless anonymity
The anonymity of the milk and the mists
Of the iron and the coal
Of an intimacy which knows its public value And bass enters and boosts
In the rhythm of miners’ pickaxe
It boosts in the rhythm of miners’ pickaxe Upbeat the iron metallurgy of percussions
The pulsation of bass drum determination and question
It struts on the even quarters
In odd step of hope and despair
The intimacy which knows its public value hopes and despairs
The intimacy which knows that the world could not collect
Has got inside a light of brightness and conflagration
Brightness in the world
Conflagration only in a soul
The night falls down with its dark blanket Dress of an instant of fate
The slumber enraptures the hertzes of dream in the indigenous night of intimacy
Just resuming the speech from the «metallurgy of percussions», we used to get crazy listening to the irreducible nervousness of Stewart Copeland’s drum. We could spend hours playing the back and forward that moment in the tape when the bass drum ended the rolling started on the toms. The hi hat opened and closed with the most elegant and re-fined caresses of the drumsticks; the snare drum pulled its shots and Stewart’s hands escaped his own hands to raid the octobans. We thought of those moments as they had been Parkinson’s Disease fibrillations (for Disease we said Morbo in Italian). Since then we started dividing the musi-cians into two groups: those who has Morbo and those who hasn’t. No matter if they were guitarists, drummers bassists and so on. An perfect technique not always means music. Music needs Morbo! The same Stewart Morbo, Jaco Pastorius, Keith Emerson and David Gilmour have, together with those who having a less advanced technique, are in any case able to create the magic of music: Sting and Paul McCartney with their sublime bass or Harrison with his guitar. Among the voices the Beatles’ solos and their choirs stood out obviously, (we spent a whole night listen-ing to Girl choosing the right channel of the hi-fi to hear Lennon’s voice without the other instruments of the group) but also Sting’s nightingale, Roger Waters’s theatr e, to which Hegel’s words «in singing the soul flows from its own life» perfectly apply, and to end with Pino Daniele’s Mediterranean mix. Our Manichean distinction between who had Morbo and who hadn’t was used both for the per-formance and the composition too. What was music and what was not, was perfectly clear. We were leftists but concerning music we said «musical Nazism rules». Also about the Police’s studio recorded choirs, we used to laugh thinking of Sting Nazism. We labeled those choirs ‘the na-zist choir’. No space for Stewart and Andy but only Sting’s over recorded voice and counter melodies. And we day-dreamt about the legendary relationship of Sting and Stew-art: with their musical discussions ending up in a fight if Andy hadn’t used his ability to mediate.
In that period Sting, who was to become my own ex-istential point of reference both for his notes and lyrics, changed Police’s reggae-rock to his solo jazz rock produc-tion. I can’t even remember the hours I spent improvising on Sting’s music since The Dream of the Blue Turtles was release in 1985. I was 16 and other 16 more 16 years have gone. Up and down my Stratocaster handboard through jazz chromatisms, not only for Sting and Pino Daniele’s jazz but also Pink Floyd’s music. My parents, my neigh-bours and all those living in my street witnessed that. Rock needs high volume: the sound I produced spread out from the ninth floor all around.
Then for a certain period my high school mate and I played together in a place where we used to go furtively. He hadn’t studied music but he knew well where to go through the ways of the four bass strings. His grand-father had taught him the basics of classic guitar, while his father was an opera lover: he had inevitably breathed the flavor of music at home. Jam sessions were endless, we started on Saturday evening at 9.00 to stop at 1.00 am and we revised every harmony of the music we loved in a spontaneous never ending music flow. Though I had other experiences in other bands, I consider this duo the only group I actually played with; and I am still so proud of it I have given that period a taste of eternity with poetry.
The sails of Saturday evening up to the sky
We took up the machine-guns of rock
With the six and four strings magazines
Down through the fields of barley and poppy
In four quarters the crossed bursts
Melpomene’s fire on the Maya’s veil
The tears and the irruption
The magic around
Wrapped in the melodies of the originary One
I am firmly convinced that my life would have inclined towards music on a professional basis if the events had had a less spontaneous dimension. In fact, I had started to compose. The music short circuit with the female muses we meet at the age of 20 can be considered, after all, the obstetrician of any great music experience in rock. What I wrote in staff has been left in a drawer in favour of poetry for ages. Perhaps in poetry takes place that synthesis of imagination, vision and words, the same I have inherited from my father, a painter and an art historian and my mother, a Latin and Greek teacher. However, thanks to a synthesizer I received as present for my degree in Philosophy, everything found the way towards creativity. It was like a strange hidden and Messianic waiting for the kairòs , I had been waiting for revealing itself in holiness.
Meanwhile, I had been recording on the synthesizer in the typical meticulous way of a humanist philologist of the fifteenth century, the compositions of all instruments that have accompanied my life. I have recreated each code that can be considered my musical genome: Police lives, Pink Floyd, Sting and Roger Waters. I usually walk on this ba-sis, especially on summer evenings, of course leaning on my 30-year walking-stick: my Stratocaster handboard!
Thanks to my youthful enthusiasm I decided to re-lease my production which otherwise would have waited for too long. Among high-school desks now I am a teacher and no more a student, the star of music keeps meeting and blessing me. Talking to one of my students, fond of record-ing and mixing, I revealed my hidden work. I was 45. He firmly told me: “teacher, let’s show these compositions”. We did that and we made an eight tracks CD called Days of Infinity. This album contains my whole love story with music, a great love story without which I wouldn’t have been the man and philosophy teacher I am. Every time I get into a class my lessons are supported by three things: my love for ancient Greece, Hegel’s theoretical retina, learnt from his Science of Logic, and that irreducible adrenalin to stay on the stage which music has gifted me. Music actually transformed itself into something professional as it has determined my professional character as a philosophy and history teacher and has made my profession a sort of a vocation that every day renews towards the symphony of freedom.
The Keynote of Freedom
The stick releases the excellence of the violins
Keeps up the feeble breath of clarinets
Recoils at the sabre cut of the bass drum that surprises
Has up the bridle of the median hertz of the violas
Then it drop
So that the symphony walks in the light of the maieutic eclipse
But the sky of notes sometimes darkens in the night
The strings, the woods and the leathers decompose
The polyphony glide on the door of disorder
So the comes again among the lines
To rise up to a C from the chest
The raid of the sun at noon interweave the rest in semibreve
In the silence everyone finds again its clef
And the web of the sounds slowly lies down again in its warp
In the end to the keynote of freedom
I cannot end this work without thanking my parents who initiated me into infinite. Not only did they give life tome, they also introduced me to what makes a man a metaphysical animal and make his days eternal under the sign of immanence. Then I, among teaching and music, philosophy and poetry, I found my way. Yò!