Christopher Small – Musicking

51n2CftQZtL._SL160_I highly recommend this book; I’ve added it to my recommended readings.

“The fundamental nature and meaning of music lie not in objects, not in musical works at all, but in action, in what people do.  It is only by understanding what people do as they take part in a musical act that we can hope to understand its nature and the function it fulfills in human life.”

Small defines music as a verb, not as a noun.  To music, is “to take part, in any capacity, in a musical performance.” The meaning of music and musicking then, is in complex connections and relationships between performers, listeners, sounds and circumstances (among other things).

Throughout most of the book, Small dissects every aspect of a symphony concert. The question he asks is very simple: “What is really going on here?” The result however, is a thick description of the symbolism, circumstances and behaviors that characterize these kinds of performances.  Small scrutinizes everything from the architecture of the performance space, the musician’s reliance on written scores, the worshipping of deceased composers, narrative in musical compositions and much, much more.

Small also intersperses three chapters with more philosophical reflections on communicative gestures, the nature of ritual, and socially constructed meanings.  Small’s ideas seem to be greatly influenced by the theories of British anthropologist and social scientist, Gregory Bateson.  I had never heard of Bateson before reading Musicking, but I’ve added some of his writings to my reading list!

What I love about this book is that the questions Small raises are for everyone’s consideration.  Everyone who participates in music making – performers, composers, teachers, listeners, artistic directors, dancers, ushers and administrative assistants – contributes to its nature and meaning.

Check it out!

1 Comment

Leave a Reply