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The Essay
Show #559
Ten Uto
David Gunn

In the Hierarchy of Musical Improbabilities, the tenuto mark reigns supreme. I don’t know what that statement means, but it’s written down on this paper without attribution so it must mean something. I do know that it -- that is, the mark, not the paper -- can be interpreted as either an articulation or a dynamic mark. We’ll come back to that in a minute. Or, maybe not. Visually, the tenuto mark resembles a cigar or the left eyebrow of Anton Webern, sometimes both at the same time. Tenuto marks have symbiotic relationships with their host notes. Each benefits from the other’s presence, no matter they’re wholly different musical organisms. A note without a tenuto mark is just a note, but a note with a tenuto mark is articulated and dynamic, sometimes handsomely so, and immediately appeals to the musician who values a value-added product. Coincidentally, Anton Webern was partial to tenuto marks, preferring them even to the cigar he often enjoyed while carefully affixing them -- the marks, not the cigars -- to notes on his scores.

When the tenuto mark is applied above a note, it acts like a protective cap or shield, warding off harmonics that may emanate from leaky notes attached to the staff directly over it. A tenuto mark placed under a note provides a measure of buoyancy so that the note doesn’t sink in pitch. This mark obviously does not have a stellar track record among C-list musicians.

The word tenuto derives from the fragments "ten," meaning "ten," and "uto," which means "count to." Thus, the musician who encounters a tenuto mark for the first time may be tempted to silently count to ten before playing the next note. He would be wrong, of course, but it’s always fun to watch a fledgling artiste screw up.

If a tenuto mark is an articulation, which it is, and an articulation is the joint between a scorpion’s cephalothorax and abdomen, which is also true, then it follows that C-list musicians who play Webern’s music probably can’t tell the difference between a scorpion and a cigar. Sigmund Freud knew something about cigars, having smoked them till he was blue in the face from oral cancer. He once said, "Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar." He meant, of course, that sometimes a cigar is just a tenuto mark.

As mentioned back in the dawn of the first paragraph, a tenuto mark can also be interpreted as a measure of dynamics, such as magnetohydrodynamics -- that is, the study of how an object, such as a cigar or a piano, moves through a fluid. Regrettably, there have not been enough studies involving pianos and fluidic materials for me to draw a conclusion worthy of this introductory essay, so I must postpone discussing it further until another time. Right after I uto ten, maybe.

The importance of the tenuto mark is not lost on tonight’s musical hosts, the Vermont Contemplative Music Ensemble. Why, their devotion to the symbol is so keen that they’ve named the whole concert after it. Sure, due to an administrative error, it was misspelled as "two new, too." But once you hear how this articulation mark influences every single note they play tonight -- as well as others they don’t play, not intentionally, anyway -- you’ll no longer doubt its import in, yes, the hierarchy of musical improbabilities. And what could be more improbable than a couple of guys sitting before a couple of microphones, vamping syllogistic incongruities till the previously mentioned ensembleers have settled into their playing positions?

This is not a rhetorical question; we really are keen to know the answer. If you have one, or know someone who does, please have it sent to the only unnumbered house at the intersection of Kalvos Kauseway & der Damianplatz, where we’ll straightaway take it in the house, a structure that serves as a conduit for this evening’s entertainment, which commences as soon as the contestants tune their weapons.