On the Objectivity of Music

Very unformed thoughts, but wanted to write them down.

Reading Dialogue 2: Grooving on Participation, with Charles Keil and Steven F. Keil brings up Tiv:

I found out that Tiv just weren’t interested in the emotional, metaphorical stuff. They were only interested in the techniques behind really god songs. When I’d ask whether a song sung at a funeral was a sad song, the response was no, the song could be sung the next day at a dance and then it would be a happy song….So it was perfectly clear to the Tiv that there were no emotional reference points that could be tied with any degree of reliability to the syntax or to the song itself. Everything was dependent upon the individual.

…She says, “You’re trying to tell me that I should hear music a certain way, and I’m telling you that when I listen to a Bach cantata, some mornings it makes me silly, laughing, giggly, giddy, and I think it’s the brightest, sunniest thing I’ve ever heard. The next morning, I can put the same Bach cantata on, and I am in tears, totally devastated. It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. And this is the same piece of music, and that’s how it is for me, and you can’t say how it should be.” So she is a Tiv, right? She is saying that the music is absolutely neutral.”

I realized that this may be true, but words are not neutral. Songs have words that are more or less explicit in meaning and emotion.

This is why jazz, classical art music, other non-verbal music is fascinating – it’s interpretive. All those years of piano lessons, with teachers asking me, “what do you feel here?” It can be different every time. I should be different every time.

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