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But Is It Music...?


Behind Bars


Welcome to the premier edition of "But Is It Music...?", Jaywalker magazine's introduction to music philosophy. In the months ahead, readers can look forward to questions designed to fuel introspect on the question "what is music?" You'll never know just what to expect to see here, but it's sure to leave you walking away scratching your head! 


Our first question leaves our publisher in his trademark scowl. He's always scowling because he's always questioning. Sadly, he never really arrives at answers. Maybe you can help him this time...


Musical notation is the written language of music. It is seen in our magazine when we do "Jam Makers", our freeware slice of Kingston sound in printed form. But what happens if we refrain from playing those bars? If a tree falls in the forest and becomes printed notation, does it make a sound?


Music is defined by most dictionaries as "successions of sound" or similar definitions requiring audibility. That is, it's only music once it hits the air. Yet many find a strong relationship between mathematics and music, with some composers deriving their composition in a calculated fashion. For example, some theorists believe Mozart and Bach applied gematria (a form of numerology) to their pieces, suggesting that their written works have a form of musical meaning without making a sound (though many believe these theories themselves to be unsound...).


What about Beethoven? He eventually became deaf, yet continued to compose music for the last ten years of his life. He played music he could not hear, but he could feel. Was it music to everyone's ears but his own? Is it still music when you can only feel it? To Beethoven, neither page nor piano made a sound: one wonders what his answer to our question would be...


And what if one feels that sheet music is indeed music, would they also feel that imagined music is music as well? What is the difference between between the song in one's head that is never played, and that series of marks on a page? Is music sound, or is music concept?


It may be lifted from the sheet a thousand times in band practice or lay hidden, undiscovered and unplayed for centuries. Notation may be quietly assessed and enjoyed by the musically erudite, while the orchestra within heeds an imaginary conductor. The collection of bars, staffs and clefs of a masterfully written piece may even present itself more beautifully in print than when performed, but is it music...?



Back to March 2004 Jaywalker


But Is It Music...? Index





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