Rules for Counterpoint

Life’s dangerous. You could be walking down Broadway, round 94th Street, and find yourself in a near-head-on collision with a former student. These sorts of things happen all the time. Clutching cellphone to ear with another friend, you say a cautious external hello, wondering: what tutelage grudges have been stewing all this time, waiting to explode?

Take comfort, gentle reader, this is a friendly encounter; Former Student is harmlessly (?) heading off to teach Counterpoint. I am returning from Starbucks Odyssey episode 2,342.

One of my little life-improvement dreams is to ruthlessly restudy counterpoint until my species are all settled down and in their proper places. Back in the halcyon year of 1995, I studied copiously (like the little good boy I am) for my Juilliard Doctoral Placement Exam, in the New Mexico sun, while ingesting huge amounts of chips and green chile salsa, dripping and smearing wonderful amounts of salsa on my music notebooks which gave the counterpoint exercises a kind of antique quality, a spicy charm — at least so I felt at the time. But this chile-induced crammed knowledge could not last long, it was bound to melt like cheese on a quesadilla.

“What are those rules of counterpoint?” I inquired hypothetically of Former Student. I was curious not to hear them, of course, but to know how he would express them.

He started with the curious ploy of the obvious. “Well, no parallel fifths.” As if, ironically, taking the question seriously? Then continued, “no unisons… which is really funny.” At least I think that is what he said; his mind moves faster than a Roadrunner across the top of a mesa in the creosote smell of the desert after a good rainstorm. Sometimes FS’s thought processes leave even this Generation Xer mystified, I who should by right of Birth be cynical of Everything and mystified by Nothing.

I decided to leap in. “Parallel fourths are a problem too, sometimes?” He began to enumerate the situations when they might or might not work, then (I speculated) got weary, in the present moment, with the sun shining down, and the day beckoning, and the brisk cold reminding the skin of its own very existence, of the dos and donots. Perhaps it was all a failed experiment in postmodernism. “There are exceptions.”

The breeze blew. A minisecond passed. My other friend waited on the cellphone to tell me something more that I should know about the strange way I conduct my life, or she hers.

Former Student’s voice interrupted its own pause impatiently. “There are lots of exceptions. The exception is if you’re dead you can’t do any of those things.” The Carpe Diem School of Counterpoint was thus defined and founded on the corner of 94th and Broadway, in front of a liquor store.

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  1. Jacque
    Posted October 13, 2006 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I thought the death exception for Rules of Counterpoint was that if you’re dead, you can’t be upbraided for breaking the rules!

  2. hari
    Posted October 13, 2006 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    that’s so funny; unfortunately i have been to the concerts of quite a few dead performers; nothing stops them.

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