From Silence to Sound — Richard Kyle’s Journey to Musical Competency, is a fictional memoir about a guitar student and his lessons with a master musician. Drawing on over three decades of experience as a professional musician, teacher, and writer, Michael Kovitz creates a book that inspires and educates. There are eight chapters in all, over twenty five characters, and discussions and descriptions of numerous pieces of music. The specific lessons explore various topics such as tuning, inversions, productive practice, interpretation, and musical vision.
A wide range of philosophical and esoteric themes are developed as well, such as the relationship between consciousness and the tempered scale, silence as the source of sound, Platonic and eastern teachings, objective art and divine love.
Excerpts from the book:
"For me, sound as vibration, respects and expresses those
same laws that govern the whole cosmos. This chapter explores many themes
connected with the relationship between music and the creation. I chose this
excerpt with the hope of communicating a ‘taste’ of the many themes it attempts
– Michael Kovitz
recall the occasion. It was March 2, 1972 and Mr. Kubadi had asked me to stop
by his studio. He said he had something for me — for my birthday.
believe it. It was the most beautiful guitar I had ever seen. The sound still
makes me cry.
It was made
by Robert Bouchet and had belonged to a woman, a wonderful classical guitarist
who, all agree, had died too soon, leaving the musical world stunned and
lamenting a brilliant career unfulfilled. She met Mr. Kubadi in France when he
was just a boy and she, just a child. Her father brought her to see one of his
first concerts and later he even instructed her for a short time.
they always kept in touch, each inspiring the other with their life and work.
When she died, her husband gave him her guitar as a gift.
It was that
day, when he gave me that unbelievable gift, that I first saw Richard. I
believe that we were introduced, and we did speak, but the details for us both
seem somewhat unclear. Perhaps it is because moments like these are very rare
and seem to belong to another world altogether — the world of the miraculous.
the honor of reading the draft of this chapter and Mera’s comment, I am struck
by the fact that the entire story, either by chance or by design, explores or
elucidates the theme of inversions seamlessly and simultaneously on many
different levels. Not one idea or image; not one exchange by any of the
participants, is extraneous or disconnected.”
On my very
first lesson with the maestro — I was just twelve years old at the time,
He took a
large crystal from a table in the studio and held it up to the light. “How many
colors do you see, Charlie?”
closer to the wall where they were reflected and I counted the colors.
said. “But with other colors in between.”
they come from?” he asked me.
light,” I answered.
the light come from, Charlie?” he asked.
sun,” I replied.
just reflects your light, Charlie,” he said. “The light comes from within.”
than took his instrument and played very slowly a one octave major scale
ascending and descending.
you just hear, Charlie?” he asked.
“The Do, Re,
Me,” I replied.
sounds did you hear?” he asked,
they come from Charlie?” he asked.
On a wall in
the gallery that leads to the studio, in a dimly lit place where one would have
no reason to pause, hangs a small painting in the style of oriental miniatures.
Though I passed it for over a year on my way in and out of lessons, I never
really noticed it until one day when the sun’s rays from the studio’s windows found
just the right angle into the gallery and set the little painting aglow with
life. I stopped and stared and was enchanted.
Two figures of exquisite form and regal bearing,
clothed in fine fabrics of floral and geometric designs; draped in silks,
ornamented with pearls, rubies, and gold, sat upon a colorful carpet gazing
into each other’s eyes, absorbed in a love serene and pure. Behind them
extended a vista of earth and heaven over which they reigned with divine
dignity. My teacher once said that love and beauty are the same. In that
moment, I understood the meaning behind his words.
A year passed
before I noticed the painting again. I had arrived for my lesson and found the
door to the apartment standing open, my teacher not there to greet me.
I called out. “It is Richard Kyle. I am here for my lesson.”
Richard,” came the reply from the studio. “Come.”
the threshold into the foyer, I was proceeding through the gallery when my
attention was again captured by the little painting. Falling under the sway of
its mystery, I was momentarily transfixed, but the sound of voices from the
studio interrupted my reverie. There is no time in eternity, was the
unusual thought that entered my mind as I continued on.
entrance to the studio I saw my teacher and a woman standing before the large
tapestry that hangs on the wall by the bookshelves. I couldn’t hear what they
were saying, but their conversation appeared to be animated and friendly. I was
immediately curious and wondered about the woman with long dark hair and
complexion of ivory and amber. Radiating an almost unworldly poise and
femininity, I sensed an inner strength and mystery that seemed to emanate from
somewhere deep within her — like the melodies that flow through the slow
movement of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto.
I was charmed
and happy, almost giddy from the intimacy of the scene and the timelessness of
the moment. Cool tears began to flow involuntarily down my cheeks.
Self-consciously I tried to erase them with the back of my hand.
passed as if in a dream and to this day, I have no recollection of her
departure or me walking into the studio. It was as if I suddenly woke up and
found myself sitting before the old music stand, guitar in hand, my teacher
across from me on the chair with the old Persian saddlebags.
I wanted to
say something to him, but somehow couldn’t find a question that didn’t feel
awkward and, of course, my teacher didn’t, on his own, volunteer any comment or
“Shall we begin?”
he said instead, and I began to sort through my music and arrange it on the
stand. But tuning my guitar was more difficult than usual, perhaps because the
lingering intensity of my state had stolen that inner quiet so essential to
hearing and tuning. When I finished, he responded to my effort with a customary
nod of his head.
“I have been
working on fingerboard studies of various chords and their inversions,” I
end?” he asked.
is the very practical application,” I answered. “By working out chords and
their inversions, as well as common harmonic progressions through the technique
of close voice leading, I am conceptualizing fundamental musical ideas that
continually appear in the pieces of music I am playing. This facilitates my
sight-reading. Additionally, since I am systemizing these chords, inversions,
and progressions on the guitar in all possible keys, the time it takes to learn
and play new pieces of music is considerably reduced.”
“But there is
something else too,” I went on. “I am acquiring a growing awareness of and
appreciation for the…” I hesitated as I attempted to find the right words,
“…objective beauty of chords and their inversions. There is a kind of symmetry
— a purity of sound.”
leaned back further in his chair and drew a deep breath. His exhale was almost
“You just used
the word objective to characterize the chords; what do you mean by objective
and where do you hear that quality in their sound?”
“In the way I
am using the terms, objectivity is something independent of opinion, while
subjectivity is dependent upon an individual’s unique experiences. I think this
is in accord with Platonic doctrine.”
doctrine,” he repeated. “Interesting — please go on.”
“Well, sir, I
find this objective quality in the sound of all chords and their inversions,
also in the sounds of scales. I think it may have something to do with the fact
that mathematics is an objective science and that music is absolutely
consistent with these mathematical relationships.”
“And can you
play some chords and inversions in a way that will give us the opportunity to
hear this objectivity you are speaking about?”
with an E7 chord and play all of its possible inversions up and down the fingerboard
along the first four strings. Then using the circle of fourths to obtain the
next chord, I’ll play all of its inversions. I’ll continue in the same way
until I’ve completed the full circle and played all chords and their inversions
in all twelve major keys.”
He asked me to
proceed and I began by sounding the first chord in the cycle to recheck my
“This is an E7
chord in third inversion. I start with third inversion because I can create
that position closest to the nut of the guitar.” I then proceeded to voice the
chord in root position, first and second inversions. The next chord in the
circle of fourths was A7 which I voiced in second inversion followed by third
inversion, root position, and then first inversion.
the process with the remaining chords through the circle of fourths and
completed voicing all twelve dominant seventh chords in all of their positions
was his only comment when I finished and then turned his gaze to the windows,
though it seemed to me that he wasn’t really seeing the rooftops of the nearby
buildings, or the great expanse of cloudless blue sky or the sun’s light
streaming into the room through the tall, uncurtained portals.
My mind began
to wonder, what is he thinking about, or is he even thinking at all? I
took a deep breath to center my attention.
poet and teacher once said that every action is a question,” he finally said.
The sound of his voice was very thoughtful — almost dreamy. “What is this
involuntarily shook my head. I couldn’t see where he was going.
“Action is a
very intimate conversation that life holds with itself about the meaning and
purpose of its existence,” he said, his voice still dreamy, the expression on
his perfectly symmetrical face almost otherworldly. “This conversation is what
I call vision and the aspect of it we call musical vision entertains this
question of existence in the two realms of experience generally considered to
be the outer and inner worlds of man. In the inner realm the conversation takes
place within us. Does it seem too existential to ask the question: Who is
speaking to whom? In the outer world we can communicate our musical vision
through art. It is a sharing and through this sharing we engage others in our
conversation and gain insight through the process of externalization.”
into a mirror to see one’s own face,” I offered.
“So let me get
this straight,” I said. “You are making the connection between my understanding
of chords and inversions and the development and refinement of my musical
“Yes and what
you are calling their objective quality is an important component in the
conversation. By bringing the attention to these pure forms, one begins to
imbibe the qualities inherent in them.”
“I think I am
beginning to understand, but it would be useful to me if we could speak further
about artistic vision. My understanding of it, as well as my ability to hear
what I wish to play remains inconsistent.”
“That is because
musical vision is dependent on one’s state. Talking about it can at best create
a favorable climate for its refinement, but lucid action informed by intent is
what is really necessary to raise the level of musical vision. Still, at times,
we must speak in order to create conditions for experience, so let us begin
again at the beginning.
First it is
important to realize that different people have different interpretations of
the term. For some, musical vision has to do with style and an artistic sensitivity
that is either innate or acquired but, to me it is something much more
fundamental and essential. Without musical vision one could not purposely
create even a single sound. Each and every attempt to shape those elements of
pitch, duration and tonal quality into a sound we wish to hear is the exercise
of musical vision. Our work is to develop and refine vision to such a level of
objectivity and lucidity that it is capable of expressing the indivisible
affinity between art and human values and explore the question of existence in
our continuing quest to unburden the mind and free the spirit.”
“Excuse me,” I
said. “But the language of music is not verbal. How can it express this kind of
question goes very deep into the reality of things. Exploration challenges many
basic truths held regarding this reality of things. Do you want me to
“Of course,” I
said. “Please go on.”