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Body Music

By Tim Hazell

Musical instruments represent many things: engineering, science, culture, religion and philosophy. Musicologists speak of “body music.” Musicians gravitate to instruments that are comfortable to hold and play. Choices of timbre and materials are personal; blind players are particularly sensitive to pitch, vibration and balance.

Body music—hand clapping, finger snapping, and foot stamping to accompany instrumental passages or vocal arrangements—are characteristic of ethnic music and were incorporated into American folk genres by early settlers.

Romans used the word tibia, or shin-bone, as a model for instruments that were blown. In French, “un nez en trompette,” the flaring opening of a trumpet, defines an upturned nose. Classical theater in Vietnam employs various vocal techniques referring specifically to human anatomy. The nasal voice is giong mui, and gion ham is the voice of the jaw. American blues references to the guitar speak of a cry or shout.

India’s folk music adds vitality to community life. There are songs for weddings, planting, and harvesting. Found materials, such as coconut shells, pots, and skins are used by artisans in ingenious ways. Commonly known examples include the bansuri or bamboo flute; the chimpta, or fire tongs; the ghatam, or the clay pot; small bells, wooden clappers, jaw harp and pot drum.

Pythagoras, born about 569 BC in Samos, Ionia, was a pivotal figure in the development of music theory, credited with the invention of a monochord, a single string running between two bridges fixed to a box-shaped resonator. He referred to harmony as “harmony of the spheres.” As we experience sensations while listening to music, our bodies capture and transmit sounds. Reactions to music are often very subjective.

Later Expressionist composers such as Schoenberg and Paul Hindemith took chamber music into unexplored territory and new directions. Prolific composer and theorist John Milton Cage Jr (1912 – 1992) is remembered for his use of the I Ching to create music involving chance, and for his 1952 composition 4’33? Musicians who perform this opus do nothing apart from being present onstage.

“Four minutes and 33 seconds of silence,” is really about natural effects heard by the audience from surrounding ambient space. Cage was an avid macrobiotic cook during his later years. His estate provides us with this robust stir-fry!


Walnut Chicken (a la Cage)


2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tsp sugar

1 tbsp. white wine

1 inch ginger root, peeled and minced

3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

2 tsp cornstarch

2 tbsp oil

1 cup walnuts or nuts of choice, coarsely chopped

2 scallions thinly sliced

2 tsp. sesame oil


Marinate chicken breast cubes in soy sauce, sugar, wine, ginger root and garlic overnight. Stir in the cornstarch.

Heat a wok or large, heavy skillet until hot. Add and heat the oil, then add chicken and marinade. Stir-fry until chicken is tender. Toss in the nuts, scallions and sesame oil. Serve with rice and a green vegetable.

Walnut Chicken a la Cage

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