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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

No No

I was reading a book on Nono while my students took an exam.  I'm sure it is fine for an audience of other musicologists, but describing music in words, with a high level of detail, over the course of several pages in row is even more deadly than detailed poetic analysis. With a poem, at least you have the poem there on the page along with the analysis. Even then, people skip over the analysis to get to the interpretation and the contextualization, the part that makes it meaningful to someone else.

 It's like hearing somebody talk about people dancing or playing sports in abstract terms. It is possible, but you have to know how to do it.

If you don't have a recording handy to play along as you are reading then you just have to take it on faith. Even with a score there, you would have to go to a keyboard and try to play it, which is fine if it's keyboard piece and you can sight-read decently, which I cannot. Even most musicians don't want to read things like that, and might not have enjoyed all their musicology and theory classes in their conservatory training. If musicians think theoretical discussions of music are boring, then ordinary folks will think that times 20.

There are effective ways of writing about music, like Alex Ross in the New Yorker.  And there are musicologists who know how to do this too. The trick is not writing for musicologists. My aim here is not to show people how much I know about music, or how smart I am, but to communicate with an audience.  As Woolf said, to know whom you are writing for is to know how to write.

Maybe I should say I am writing for the same people that the composers are composing for: listeners.

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