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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000166.txt from 1999/04

From: (Robert Howey)
Subj: [kl] RE: Deep understanding
Date: Sat, 3 Apr 1999 23:16:03 -0500

On Friday, April 2, Tony Pay wrote:

>What would please me is if someone were to discuss some point,
>preferably a crucial one, and preferably in a calm fashion designed to
>get at the truth of the matter, rather than dealing with this important
>issue in terms of people's qualifications, opinions, and how they
>express them.

I would like to open up these ideas to discussion as I feel that this forum
is one in which many of the ideas that Tony has brought up should be
discussed. These are difficult issues that require considerable more
thought and attention than many of the other postings on this listserv.

On March 31, Tony wrote:

>The fundamental idea is that young musicians naturally have responses to
>the music. The best way we have of talking about the process of
>performance is to speak of the communication of their notion of the
>meaning of the music to an audience that needs their communication in
>order to understand the music, just like the analogy of the bedtime
>story. That's something that they do very early, and with simple

I would agree that all of us have natural responses to music. These
responses could be called musical sensitivity or aesthetic sensitivity.
Under the old aesthetic idea of teaching music, the development of
aesthetic sensitivity was a goal of music instruction. The more
aesthetically sensitive our students of music are, the more that they
appreciate or respond to music.

My question in comment to the idea of music as communication is, can we
talk of communication in this context? Is there a particular message that
is being conveyed or is the audience perceiving different information
simultaneously? This is a question that has been much debated in
philosophical circles. Music has a Gestalt that transcends language.
IMHO, there is probably less consistency in the way that music is perceived
than verbal kinds of communication. Is music a form of communication or is
it a form of expression that may or may not fall into the category of
communication? Is it important to split hairs in this regard? I suppose
it depends on your audience. If we determine that there are 3 potential
audiences for our discussion of these ideas, the general public, ourselves
(the personal) and our colleagues (the professional), it makes sense to
determine the audience first before engaging in these discussions.

A further question inherent in your argument is do we ever understand
music? Does an audience ever understand the music by the performance of
the particular musician? Again, if the topic were addressed to the general
public, perhaps talking about understanding of the music would be
appropriate. In a professional context such as this one, I feel that it is
spurious to make the statement that our performance helps our audience to
understand the music. The audience can better perceive the music by our
performance, but I would draw the line at understanding. Music has a
Gestalt that I believe goes beyond simple understanding. Every time a
piece is performed, the context changes and this alters the position of the
audience to "understand" the music. How can one understand something that
changes each time it is performed?

>The continual technical refinement of their means of expression, in
>which we participate, then takes place within the understanding of
>performance as such communication to such an audience.
>There are some things that we may discuss here that are important in
>themselves, and the issue of how we think of musical expression is one
>of them. I submit that a clear understanding of what we mean by musical
>expression is a very important component in the results we obtain in our
>own playing, and when we engage with others, either colleagues or

I agree that our perception of musical expression is utmostly important.
It dictates so many of the musical decisions that are we have to make. I
also believe that this musical expression has to take into account the
performer or the student who is creating the music. This is why music is
such a dynamic art form: the context of the composer, the performer and the
performance provide such infinite variety.
>You might want to think that what happens here should always ultimately
>have the quality of a diversion, and that if discussion should stray
>into deeper waters, then someone like yourself should cry 'peace!' and
>there is a meek return to the shallows.

I feel that a meek return to the shallows undermines the creative thinking
that could be available through this forum. This is the place that
philosophical things should be discussed without judgment and without

I would just like to add that I've greatly appreciated Tony Pay's messages.
His insight is refreshing and his skill as a writer is considerable. By
this message, I hope to continue the ideas about musical expression that
Tony began. Let all involved maintain their sense of humour, i.e. sense of
balance. This is my humble two cents on this topic.

Bob Howey "As Canadian as possible under the

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