03 November 2012

A Significant Gesture

I have just realized this post directly relates to the importance of Rumpelstiltskin. Hah. Funny how my mind works.

Gesture: Noun; A movement of part of the body, esp. a hand or the head, to express an idea or meaning: "so much is conveyed by gesture."

In the field of music, the smallest unit of musical significance is the gesture. Larger than a single note, smaller than a phrase, the gesture is a series of moving tones which impact the melody and mood of a piece. Granted, this is my poor, short - hand attempt to describe a much more complicated piece of theory, but I imagine most of my dear readers have neither the time nor inclination to learn all the nuances of gestures in music. For instance, the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony can be considered as a gesture forming the first part of his opening phrase.

In communication, a gesture is a physical movement that conveys significance to the accompanying words. "May the LORD do so to me," means little without the gesture illustrating what "doing so " looks like. Above all, a gesture is subtle. It is not the text, it can be context. Or subtext. Or the just an illustration. It is meaningful, but only when combined to form a phrase.

When I perform a piece of music, my attention is split between shaping phrases and creating meaningful gestures. However, if I do my job correctly, the listeners do not hear short little snippets of melody strung together like a four - year- old's bead necklace: rather, they hear long, fluid phrases flowing together to form a unified whole.

To a certain degree, gestures meaningful only when hidden. Like a secret, the gesture put on display loses it's original meaning and shifts the power more into the audience's hands -is the subtlety worth our attention? Should it live on as a meme or GIF or die on the authority of public opinion? It is worthwhile to note here that a gesture may be intended for a receiver without becoming a display - when I ask my father to help me treat my mother, I do it for her sake (a gesture), rather than for his (a display).

Because the meaning of a gesture is implicit rather than explicit, I hesitate to use this next example to illustrate. The gesture in question occurred on my birthday, and I could have quite easily crowed about it on Facebook that night and turned it into a big display. I am worried that by sharing the event I will lose its personal meaning and turn it into just another Big Fish story. But here goes.

My family went hiking in the Cascade Mountains for my birthday. The Cascades are, in part, named for their abundance of streams and creeks flowing off the snow line. So there we are, hiking alongside of a creek bed. Thursday and I hiked down off the trail (following Leave No Trace principles, yes) and into the rocky creek. Walking upstream, we had fun jumping on and off of rocks and over fallen trees, just for the heck of it. However, we soon reached a point where the trail was on top of a cliff, and the stream on the bottom. Not wanting to backtrack, I found a fallen tree that ran from the bottom of the stream to the top of the cliff, and exited my 18th year by crawling on a tree of questionable structural integrity about twenty feet above a rocky, stream filled ravine.

Yes, I got a crazy adrenaline rush. Yes, some other hikers stopped and took pictures.  Someone filmed it. But I wasn't doing it to give my mom a heart attack or get online. The gesture was for my benefit alone. I was facing my fear of heights and fear if the mundane.

In short, a gesture's significance comes more from intentions. It is, like a secret, internally defined and externally descriptive of the person making the gesture. Eavesdropping or accidentally observing one can tell you a lot about a person - which is why I enjoy people watching. Ultimately, it is the person one is when alone that is the real "person." It is the things one does with private meaning that has the most significance, and it is the actions one takes for the sake of one other that truly are a window into the soul.

No comments:

Post a Comment