Lately, I’ve been noticing details, small things—pinprick brushstrokes, over-and-undertones in color. Look closely, focus on one confined area, and you can see them. Observe from a distance and they blend, form a single image, or hue. In cooking, spices behave the same way. If you hold a spoonful of a complex dish on your tongue and concentrate, savor it, you will recognize the underlying essences. On their own, each spice has a distinct flavor, but in the act of combining with other spices and ingredients, they become traces of themselves, they transform. And, they transform the whole.
Small things. In prose and music, too.
Consider this passage, the little words in service to the idea:
How, in a houseful of shadows, should he know his own Shadow? How, in a houseful of noises, distinguish the summons he felt to be at hand? (From “The Beckoning Fair One” by Oliver Onions)
“In”-“a”-“own”-“to”-“be”. Each article has a life, a character. But set within the sentences, they smooth the transition from one word to another, shape phrases, clarify purpose.
In music, “Passing tones” perform this function.
In the example below, from a Mozart piano sonata, passing tones are marked by parentheses. In some measures, particularly #s 3 and 7, there are many of them. And yet, when you listen to the excerpt, rather than passing tones, you’ll hear line, movement, progress. Listen to the sonata in its entirety, and you’ll hear the whole.