The Horizontal

The Horizontal

The universe has no restrictions.

You place restrictions on the universe with your expectations.

~ Deepak Chopra


Establishing Horizontal Hierarchy 

Defining the Energy Pillars

Balancing vertical effects with horizontal effects is the eternal puzzle of the pianist.  Rachmaninoff said that every work culminates in a single point, which if missed, destroys the entire performance.  This is equally true of every vertical slice of sound.  The climax of a work or movement or phrase or miniscule gesture — horizontal or vertical — is its fundamental Energy Source.  It acts as a pressure point.

The masterful interpreter is an acupuncturist. 

But where are these mysterious points of energy hiding?  As a rule, the emotional journey experienced when performing should follow an architectural logic formed from the actual energy of the work, not from a superimposition of the interpreter’s will, but how to distinguish between the two? 

For the moment, rely only on your intuition and see if you can locate the pressure points in the primary melody of our Prelude excerpt.  Map out where you feel the harmonic and emotional energy center.  Shortly, we’ll work through them together (and in Part IV, we’ll examine in greater detail how to establish where these pressure points lie and explore the music theory behind them), but it’s important to try to discover them first on your own. Each gesture will center around one moment in time, a single note; these Energy Pillars will have a precise, predetermined relationship with one another, and in each phrase, section, movement and entire work, they will culminate in an apotheosis — a single note. 


At first, as you identify them, one by one, put an accent over them.  Then play through the passage several times, exaggerating the accents with a burst of sensitive, expressive energy until you begin to feel them throughout your being as solid Energy Pillars.  You are both the patient and the doctor; apply expressive pressure to the pressure points in order to realign the energy to its unadulterated pathways.  There’s a fine line between force and passivity; as you stop resisting the flow of energy in and out of these Pillars you’ll be able to release yourself fully to them and let their energy guide you.  This is how Zen takes over. 


It is not the pointing finger.

It is the direction.

~ unknown


The system of Energy Pillars governing Horizontal Hierarchy applies not only to Romantic music, but virtually all music, from the Renaissance surprisingly through most Modern music.  Take down any score from your bookshelf if you’re incredulous, as I was when I was first struck by this realization:  Palestrina, Bach, Scarlatti, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Prokofieff, Schonberg, Rochberg!  Every phrase has a single note that acts as its axis, its energy center, its pressure point, its Energy Pillar, its appoggio

Feel your way through any phrase, first defining every note of emphasis, and then from among those notes, choose the most important.  You may run into instances where the choice at first is ambiguous.  Simply choose. Later you can redefine your choices, but don’t leave ambiguity and needless artistic improvisation in the air.  Music is fluid enough as it is — define as much as possible.

And then go back and redefine when your ready with wiser choices.


When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

~ Yogi Berra 


Let’s now examine together the nature and interplay of Energy Pillars in the red and blue levels. 

Level 1 — Red

The first three notes (A, G-sharp, C-sharp) make up the primary gesture of the work.  Which is the energy center?  First, you can rule out the G-sharp for three reasons — it’s not on an accented beat, it’s not melodically or harmonically dissonant, and it’s not a long note.   The A makes a possible candidate because it’s potentially dissonant against the G-sharp if treated as an appoggiatura, and it’s on the strong 3rd beat.  But I vote for the C-sharp because it’s on the strong downbeat and it’s very long.  If you agree, C-sharp is the strongest, followed by the A followed by the G-sharp; the G-sharp belongs to the A, and as a pair they belong to the C-sharp.  (As this gesture repeats over and over again throughout the piece, it’s possible later to vary it, but in its first appearance, I recommend giving it its purest form.)  The following shows the direction of energy:


Notice how the arrow begins after the attack of the A.  This is because the A is the secondary energy source of the three-note gesture and needs to have its own little burst of energy before being drawn into its positive pole, the C-sharp.  Notice also how the line thickens as it gains intensity.  Just like a magnet, the closer you get, the stronger the pull.

The second gesture of the red line is identical to the first, except that it’s pp rather than ff, so the mood and effect is completely different.  This is what’s fascinating about studying the underlying energy of musical gestures — the same movement of energy can produce limitless results.  Yet if the definition of the underlying energy is not pure and simple, the overall effect becomes blurred and confusing.

In virtually any work, the main melody is the primary substance.  It has to be brought out with a special color, dynamic level and energy level that clearly separate it from the accompanying material, no matter how complex.  Within the primary melody, the notes where the energy centers are key.  If you manage nothing else, be sure to play these notes with conviction — they’re the Energy Pillars that hold up the structure.  If you allow your mind to wander to lesser details during performance and fail to observe any of them, the structure and effect weaken considerably, possibly even to the point of crumbling.


In the universe,

there are things that are known,

and things that are unknown,

and in between, there are doors.

~ William Blake


It helps to notate the Pillars into your score.  Connect the centers of each gesture, trying to clearly feel and show their relationship to one another.  Here’s the first page of the Prelude with the positive energy poles of the principle level linked:


These nine lonely notes form the key to the interpretation of the first page.  But how to connect them logically?  Now we’re getting to the essence of the larger movement and form of energy!  I treat the first three Pillars as a double echo.  There’s a typical Rachmaninoffian outburst at the outset (the subject for another essay . . . ).  An enormous amount of energy is thrown out there — simply relax and ride it out.  The first Pillar is ff, the second p or mf and the third a real pp.  It gives the sensation that time is moving backwards, that we’re reaching into the past.   If you feed in too much fresh energy, the mood becomes very present and the effect is ruined. 

Then comes an important turning point — try to catch it without breaking the line.  (Surfers should have little trouble following the present argument.)  As one wave weakens, another stronger one spins you in a new direction, drawing you toward a new destination.  Just after you’ve played the third Pillar, the vision and expectation of the fifth Pillar enraptures you.  Suddenly the energy starts edging forward again with palpable expectation.

The fourth Pillar is played in crescendo and the fifth Pillar releases a small climax of energy, mf or even f.  The energy again begins to float backwards riding the fifth Pillar, and the sixth through ninth Pillars (as well as the tenth at the top of the next page) are played in diminuendo.


“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water.

When you swim you don't grab hold of the water,

because if you do you will sink and drown.

Instead you relax, and float.” 

~ Alan W. Watts


Level 2 — Royal Blue

In the first page of the Prelude, the movement of energy in the red line is identical to that of its two supporting layers, light purple and dark blue.  Likewise, the royal blue line has five supporting layers that move in sync.

The first gesture consists of a 3-note gesture followed by a 2-note gesture.  First, ask yourself, Where does the energy center?   If you look at the first three notes — C-sharp, E, D-sharp — the energy clearly centers on the E, which is on the beat and acts as an appoggiatura to the D-sharp.  The C-sharp is merely a preparatory note.  Therefore, the C-sharp is negative, the E positive, and the D-sharp negative.  The fourth and fifth notes, D and B-sharp, form an echoing appoggiatura (despite being separate by an 8th rest), D being positive and B-sharp negative.   The 2-note gesture acts as the negative pole to the preceding positive 3-note gesture. It's easier to grasp through this image:


Each time this 5-note pattern repeats itself throughout the Prelude, the energy flows in the same way.

Notice the backwards energy arrows.  Forward motion and forward momentum are commonly understood musical concepts; time and energy are drawn forward through currents, like a river, right?  But how then can energy move backwards?  Perhaps rather than a river, understand it as a wave or tide: once it comes in, it must return to the sea.


“Take the backward step

that turns the light and shines it inward.”



Panima — Mother of all Gestures

Every musical gesture, like a wave, has three parts — the negative preparation and buildup of energy, the positive release of energy, and the negative riding out of that energy.  The first part of the gesture looks into the future with expectation; it’s drawn forward into a hidden energy source.  The second part, the climax, is the moment in time that exists purely in the present; whether large or small, it’s an explosion of positive energy.  The third part, the negative post-climax, looks backwards in time toward the climax.  It can best be understood as a relatively short period of elated nostalgia.

Forgive me if it sounds like I’m describing sex.

One might postulate that every gesture stems from a single, eternal, nameless gesture, itself rooted in sex.  Or is sex perhaps merely one of her more obvious manifestations?  Whatever the case may be, I call her Panima (Pan+Anima).  Her shape surrounds us and defines so many of life’s experiences that it’s difficult not to notice her once you become aware of her.  Naturally, her permutations also find their way into Life’s echoes, Art & Music: the realization of a goal, big or small; a good joke or story.  Take, for example, the exposition/development, climax and coda of the traditional western novel:  Do its shape and that of sex really differ?  Are the movements of their energies dissimilar? 

Or a more mundane example — late-night hunger leads to the ordering of pizza.  A long wait culminates in the delivery of said pizza and its rapid, voracious, delicious consumption.  A short period of elated satisfaction or regret ensues. 


Panima breathes life into infinite manifestations and variations of the following physical form:


Look into the deep past:  even the Biblical account of creation — culminating in the 6th day, the 7th decreed as a day of rest and backwards contemplation — depicts this gesture.  Not to leave out the Big Bang, an even more classic definition of a prolonged cyclical buildup of energy, climaxing in a great explosion of energy and followed by its relatively rapid dissipation.  With every passing day, the Earth comes one spin closer to its eventual demise — it’s simply riding out former glory.  After all, the seed of dissipation and death is present at birth. 

Look to the Far East:  The Art of Archery. The Japanese Tea Ceremony.  The Buddhist Monk’s Pursuit of Illumination.   All depictions of the nameless gesture.

And what is their defining characteristic?  They all culminate in a single moment in time — a single, energy-laden, explosive note. Forgive the repetition, but if you acknowledge this mother of all gestures, you will start to see it everywhere, you will learn to master it, and it you.

Most Western music (and much Eastern as well) can be reduced to infinite variations, couplings, and constant permutations of this single nameless gesture, from the microscopic to the macroscopic. 

Take a typical 8-bar phrase of music, which tends to split into three smaller gestures — 2 bars + 2 bars + 4 bars.  The Pillars most often fall on the downbeats of mm. 2, 4, and either 6 or 7 (occasionally even on the downbeat of the eighth, a Beethovenian delight) and they grow in intensity, culminating in the third Pillar.  The phrase graphs as a triple wave:


Some of you may ask yourselves: Must the interpreter translate music into graphs and patterns? Doesn't that take away the magic, the emotion, the meaning? 

This seemingly dry graph bursts with living energy and expression!  Energy must travel through vessels and shapes, because without them, it disperses and becomes meaningless.  Understanding the shapes and patterns of energy is as essential as understanding its substance and movement.  If you learn to recognize them, you’ll be well on your way to finding the ideal physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual approach to allowing that energy to flow.   

Explanations of Zen and Tao generally emphasize the movement and quality of energy. But energy means little without form, which is why Zen may only be learned by studying a discipline (archery, piano, painting, etc.). The discipline gives form to both the energy and its study; the substance and movement of energy gradually come to be understood as if they had no form. Once this level of "enlightenment" is reached, Zen comes to be understood as an entity unto itself and may be more easily applied to other disciplines, such as life. It’s a two-sided coin — the understanding of the technique of a discipline frees the flow of energy (Zen/Tao); the freer flow of energy facilitates greater comprehension and acquisition of the technique of the discipline. A virtuous yin-yang circle.



Returning to our discussion of the blue level, in a 2-note gesture like the 4th and 5th notes above, the negative preparation into the positive Pillar is silent, yet it exists.  Trying to release energy without gathering it together first is like singing without breathing.  Occasionally you’ll even come across single-note gestures with silent preparations and silent releases, such as a staccato outburst.  Just because the preparation and release don’t find their way into black dots on the page doesn’t mean they don’t exist. 


Here’s the Panimanean notation of the entire 5-note phrase just above: 


Now let's look at the second energy pattern in the royal blue line is in mm. 6-7.  There are countless ways to subdivide this two-bar phrase, but the simplest and most effective is to divide it in two equal parts centered on the third beats, bar 7 echoing bar 6 as its negative counterpart. This is a double-panima, a burst with an echo riding in its wake, like so:


Can you see how the energy arrows translate into a mountain silhouette, how its peaks reveal the Energy Pillars?  Notice also how a secondary Panima is embedded as an echo inside the primary one. Also, see how rapidly Rachmaninoff’s gesture surges into its climax, followed by a meandering, nostalgic melancholy!  This is unusual in typical music, but a favorite gesture for Rachmaninoff.


Be soft in your practice.

Think of the method as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall.

Follow the stream.

~ Sheng-yen


Now let’s examine the Energy Pillars of the royal blue line for the entire first page.  Each Pillar represents a panimanean peak.  As you read through the following realization of the blue energy Pillars for the first page, can you translate them into the peaks of a long, complex strand of Panima, an undulating energy horizon?


There are twelve primary Pillars and nine secondary (notice in the secondary Pillars that the stem doesn’t quite reach the beam). 

Work through each Pillar on the local level, following the flow of energy to and fro, giving an extra burst of expressive energy on the Pillar notes to help them settle into your system.  Then begin tentatively defining the relationships between Pillars.  Who among us is the greatest?  Is this one greater or lesser than the previous one?  How do more distant Pillars relate to one another?  Which is each phrase’s Primary Pillar?  Among these, which one marks the climax of the section?  Unraveling complex structures often requires little more than answering a long series of simple questions.

Once you feel somewhat comfortable with the flow of energy and expression in the blue level, you’re ready to consider the red and blue layers superimposed:


Try playing it and see if you can keep track of the Energy Pillars of both lines at the same time.  At first, simply put an accent on all the Pillars and then gradually grade and shape them.  Let all the other notes fall into the background.


If at first you feel as if your mind is bending and you find yourself forgetting to breathe, that's normal.  Jugglers have the same sensation when they add in another ball for the first time.  If you feel like you played better by simply following your instinctive approach instead of applying yourself so consciously and artificially to a page of music, this is also normal.   Be patient.  Don’t expect immediate mastery.  There’s a beauty in coming to the realization that emotion has its own architecture and order.  And there’s power in the slow mastery of your own intuition.

You, yourself, are the eternal energy which appears as this universe.

You didn't come into this world; you came out of it.

Like a wave from the ocean.

~ Alan Watts


Panima vs. Energy Pillars

You may not immediately fully grasp the difference between the graphs of Panimanean silhouettes and those of Energy Pillars with energy direction lines/arrows.  As you have seen, they can be overlapped and both clearly explain the same energy peaks.  The main difference is that the silhouettes highlight the shape of the energy in and out of the peaks, as well as relationship between peaks, whereas as the Pillars emphasize the sources of energy and the direction of energy in and out of them.    

It’s a chicken-or-the-egg question: Which came first?  Which generates the other?  Does the source of energy create a gesture around it, or does the movement of a gesture center its energy at its peak, creating an energy center, like a mountain transformed into a volcano by seismic activity?  I cannot say, but they seem to represent two types of energy operating at the same time, not unlike the nature of Light.

Scientists were long confounded in their search to adequately explain light:  Is it formed by waves or particles?  Heated arguments raged over centuries.  Ultimately, it was discovered that both waves and particles operate at the same time, a phenomenon called wave-particle duality.

Whether or not the languages of Panima and Pillars describe the same or differing energy is not essential to the interpreter; becoming fluent in both will lead you to greater command of the flow and communication of musical energy. 


To pierce through the illusion of separateness,

to realize that which lies beyond duality —

that is a goal worthy of a lifetime.

~ unknown