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Subject: 'An Element of Falsity'
From: Genevieve Castle Room <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Genevieve Castle Room <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 2 Mar 2017 02:17:27 -0500

text/plain (90 lines)

I would agree with pretty much everything in this segment from Nicholas
Cook's book 'Music, Imagination & Culture'. I hadn't thought much about the
point that it is also possible to play music without understanding it, so
that is an interesting angle to consider.... At the bottom there are
'angry' responses from three anonymous musicologists which reminded me how
members of that profession have a built-in need to rally for the importance
of what they do within the academic system so that they can survive within


>I have tried to suggest some reasons for being suspicious of the whole
concept of 'music appreciation' as a matter of principle. And in practice
there is little hard evidence that programmed instruction in music leads to
an enhanced enjoyment of it, over and above the undoubted effects of
repeated hearings. (I am not, of course, denying that people may derive
lasting pleasure from their exposure to music as a result of music
appreciation classes; what I am questioning is the role of the instruction
that is offered in them.) For every empirical study that seems to show a
clear positive effect of instruction upon aesthetic enjoyment, it is
possible to cite one that suggests that it has little or no effect. Indeed,
there are indications that instruction can actually have a negative
effect [....] There is also an element of falsity in the relationship
between the musician and the general public. For, as Bruno Nettl says, 'The
fruits of music, like science, are enjoyed daily by practically all of the
population, but the academic musical establishment has made the lay public
feel that without understanding the technicalities of musical construction,
without knowledge of notation and theory, one cannot properly comprehend or
deal with music.'

>Even the musician, however, might begin to wonder what it means properly
to comprehend or deal with music when he reads Leonard B. Meyer's statement
that 'neither memorization nor performance necessarily entail
understanding. It is possible to read, memorize and perform music that one
DOES NOT REALLY UNDERSTAND.' One wants to add: and to compose, listen to,
and write about too!..... For, with these additions, Meyer's statement
takes on a new meaning. Music is, as John Blacking says, 'too deeply
concerned with human feelings and experiences in society for it to be
subject to arbitrary rules, like the rules of a game'; that is why symbols
and images of music can never fully embody the coherence and quiddity of a
piece of music.


>FIRST MUSICOLOGIST: What depressing waffle!! We can indeed react to music
somatically (with our body), but a greater involvement, as Bertrand Russell
would have said, involves both sensibility and learning. I endorse that:
the trio of Mind-Body-Spirit is indestructible, music needs patience and
attention. Nicholas Cook is, alas, the Nigel Farage (=Donald Trump) of
musicology, the populist who enters the system mainly to argue against it.
I haven't read this book, and given the flaccidity of style, will go out of
my way to avoid it!

>SECOND MUSICOLOGIST: As far as I'm concerned, Nicholas Cook is a nutcase.
My experience suggests the opposite. Only idiots teach "appreciation." We
as musicologists are teaching about major artworks and there are many
levels on which "instruction" can enhance the experience. To say otherwise
is hogwash!

>THIRD MUSICOLOGIST: So my nigh on forty years of teaching music -- and the
countless talks I have given to continuing-education classes, community
groups, etc., etc. -- have been a total waste of time? Ah well.... Nicholas
Cook is a postmodern iconoclast: he also takes a fat salary from the
University of Cambridge for a job he evidently doesn't believe in.... Bruno
Nettl is an ethnomusicologist who thinks that "World Music" is the best
thing since sliced bread, while anyone studying the Western art-music canon
is by definition an elitist pig.... John Blacking is another
ethnomusicologist with the same prejudices. He may be right: to take the
obvious analogy, I don't need to understand basketball to gain some
pleasure from watching Duke play Indiana. But those who do understand the
game with all its nuances no doubt have a much better time of it. As for
me, I'm quite happy spending my life trying to understand the rules of a
composer's game, which are not at all arbitrary. And yes, I can even teach
most of those rules to a "general public."

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