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CLASSICAL  November 2006

CLASSICAL November 2006

Subject:

Re: Music as Language

From:

Rick Mabry <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 17 Nov 2006 08:55:19 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (54 lines)

Myself, then Richard:

>>Case in point: Hearing to 'Taps' today reminded me that I find it to be
>>about the saddest bit of music I can think of.  And it is entirely a C
>>major chord.
>
>In my humble opinion, this is not the best counterexample.  I believe that
>if you took someone from our (Western) culture, fully acquainted with our
>mainstream forms of music (perhaps a trumpet player), but who had somehow
>managed all his (or her) life to avoid ever hearing "Taps", and you gave
>it to him as bare sheet music without indications for expression and asked
>him to play it, he would never suspect that it was meant to be a sad
>piece.  In other words, I think Taps is sad by specific extramusical
>cultural association, not for intrinsically musical reasons.

Maybe it now depends on what you mean by "musical".  I don't want to
argue that it is the notes alone that make for sad or happy.  The 'Taps'
example was a partial counterexample to my own earlier assertion.

But "bare sheet music" does not the piece of music make (as many music
directors must frequently implore their players).  What I think we should
also be talking about is the *music*, not the notes, the piece as one
hears it played.  What makes 'Taps' sad (at its best) is the emotion put
into those bare notes, the quivering of the tones, the pauses between.

Just like language, when you get down to it.

The notes in 'Taps' are not happy or sad any more than the bare words
on a page are necessarily so.  It takes a reading to inject that.  (That's
why we often need to add emoticons to show the distinctions in typed
text.)

I suspect that much of the the sadness or happiness (or otherness) of
music is directly associated with our behavior, including the *ways*
we speak (as opposed to the bare words we utter) --- the hard-wired,
culture-independent emotions we all have.  (Could we start associating
smiles with sadness?)

HOWEVER, simply because culture has its undeniably influence on
our perception of emotion in music, that does not rule out a more
physical/physiological component to it.  Do not some pieces, even their
bare notes on a page (with appropriate markings, at least) lend themselves
*more easily* to certain emotions than others?  I think it would be
challenging (even if amusing) to try to make the theme to Benny Hill,
for instance, become associated with sadness by forced cultural associations.
And I am not talking about by using some absurdly slow arrangement, I
mean the theme as you would hear it today.  Does it really sound happy,
and if so, why?  Is it nature or nurture or both?  (I think it is both.)

Before you say, it, I do suspect that many of you do indeed become sad
upon hearing the theme to Benny Hill!  Pick a different example, in that
case.:-)

Rick

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