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Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening

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Extending the inquiry of his early groundbreaking books, Christopher Small strikes at the heart of traditional studies of Western music by asserting that music is not a thing, but rather an activity. This new work outlines a theory of what Small terms "musicking, " a verb that encompasses all musical activity from composing to performing to listening to a Walkman to singin Extending the inquiry of his early groundbreaking books, Christopher Small strikes at the heart of traditional studies of Western music by asserting that music is not a thing, but rather an activity. This new work outlines a theory of what Small terms "musicking, " a verb that encompasses all musical activity from composing to performing to listening to a Walkman to singing in the shower. Using Gregory Bateson's philosophy of mind and a Geertzian thick description of a typical concert in a typical symphony hall, Small demonstrates how musicking forms a ritual through which all the participants explore and celebrate the relationships that constitute their social identity. This trip through the concert hall will have readers rethinking every aspect of their musical worlds.


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Extending the inquiry of his early groundbreaking books, Christopher Small strikes at the heart of traditional studies of Western music by asserting that music is not a thing, but rather an activity. This new work outlines a theory of what Small terms "musicking, " a verb that encompasses all musical activity from composing to performing to listening to a Walkman to singin Extending the inquiry of his early groundbreaking books, Christopher Small strikes at the heart of traditional studies of Western music by asserting that music is not a thing, but rather an activity. This new work outlines a theory of what Small terms "musicking, " a verb that encompasses all musical activity from composing to performing to listening to a Walkman to singing in the shower. Using Gregory Bateson's philosophy of mind and a Geertzian thick description of a typical concert in a typical symphony hall, Small demonstrates how musicking forms a ritual through which all the participants explore and celebrate the relationships that constitute their social identity. This trip through the concert hall will have readers rethinking every aspect of their musical worlds.

30 review for Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening

  1. 4 out of 5

    Γιώργος Μπέλκος

    Ένα σύγγραμμα που σίγουρα μπορεί να αποτελέσει εργαλείο (σε κάθε άνθρωπο, και ιδιαίτερα σε αυτούς που έχουν συνειδητοποιήσει την σημαντικότητα της μουσικής στη ζωή τους) ανάλυσης, εις βάθος κατανόησης και επανεκτίμησης του φαινομένου που ονομάζουμε μουσικοτροπία. Η μουσικοτροπία είναι μια δραστηριότητα μέσω της οποίας δημιουργούμε κάποιες σχέσεις οι οποίες αναπαριστούν τις σχέσεις του κόσμου μας-όχι όπως είναι, αλλα όπως θα ευχόμασταν να είναι. Η μουσικη πράξη κατα τον Σμολ φέρνει τους ανθρώπους Ένα σύγγραμμα που σίγουρα μπορεί να αποτελέσει εργαλείο (σε κάθε άνθρωπο, και ιδιαίτερα σε αυτούς που έχουν συνειδητοποιήσει την σημαντικότητα της μουσικής στη ζωή τους) ανάλυσης, εις βάθος κατανόησης και επανεκτίμησης του φαινομένου που ονομάζουμε μουσικοτροπία. Η μουσικοτροπία είναι μια δραστηριότητα μέσω της οποίας δημιουργούμε κάποιες σχέσεις οι οποίες αναπαριστούν τις σχέσεις του κόσμου μας-όχι όπως είναι, αλλα όπως θα ευχόμασταν να είναι. Η μουσικη πράξη κατα τον Σμολ φέρνει τους ανθρώπους σε επαφη με το "συνδετικό ιστό" ενα τεράστιο δίκτυο που συνδέει του ανθρώπους μεταξύ τους και με τον κόσμο. Μέσω της πράξης επιβεβαιώνονται, απορρίπτονται και αναδιαμορφώνονται οι σχέσεις αυτές. Αμφισβητεί την άποψη που πολλοί άνθρωποι έχουν για τον εαυτό τους οτι ειναι άμουσοι και ατάλαντοι. Αυτό που ονομάζουμε μουσική είναι ένα αποκύημα της φαντασίας, μια αφαίρεση της πράξης (μέρος μιας ευρύτερης τελετουργίας), της οποίας η πραγματικότητα εμφανίζεται μόλις αρχίσουμε να την εξετάζουμε από κοντά. Αποκαθηλώνει τα δημιουργήματα της τέχνης ως υπεραξίες. Καταπιάνεται με το παράδειγμα της συναυλίας συμφωνικής μουσικής για να εξάγει σημειολογικά εργαλεία. Οι χώρες και οι πόλεις που θέλουν να σηματοδοτήσουν την είσοδό τους στον «ανεπτυγμένο» κόσμο κατασκευάζουν ένα "κέντρο για τις παραστατικές τέχνες", όπως τα μέγαρα, και ιδρύουν μια συμφωνική ορχήστρα. Καταπιάνεται επίσης με τη σημειολογία της αρχιτεκτονικής αυτών των κτηρίων. Τα συναυλιακά μέγαρα που είναι ουσιαστικά μια εφεύρεση του 19ου αιώνα κατασκευάστικαν από την αστική τάξη ως επιβεβαίωση των μεταξυ τους σχέσεων και ως δείγμα διαφοροποίησης ισχύος από κατώτερες τάξεις. Πολύ ενδιαφερον παρουσιάζει και η παραλληλία με το θέατρο και πως αυτή οδήγησε στην εδραίωση της φόρμας στην κλασική μουσική. Το ρεπερτόριο μια κλασικής συναυλίας που σχηματίστηκε απο συγκεκριμένες ανάγκες των ανθρώπων για κατασκευή μύθων (συνθετών) ως υποδείγματα δράσης, παγιώθηκε μόλις στον Ά παγκόσμιο και σίγουρα βρίσκεται εκτός μητρικού περιβάλλοντος, και εξυπηρετεί διαφορετικούς σκοπούς, γεγονός που υπονομεύει τη σοβαροφάνεια μιας τέτοιας συναυλίας. Επίσης θίγεται στο βιβλίο η σπανιότητα των μουσικών αστέρων ως ένας μηχανισμός που μέσω της εμπορευματοποίησης της μουσικής δημιουργεί την αξία αυτών των ολίγων, γεγονός που αναδεικνύει το συμφέρον του συστήματος να κρατά στη διαχείρησή του (βλέπε διαγωνισμούς) τον αριθμό νέων ταλέντων. Όλα τα παραπάνω αποτελούν ένα μέρος από θέματα που καταπιάνεται το βιβλίο και σίγουρα ανοίγουν νέους ορίζοντες στην κατανόηση και επαναδιαπραγμάτευση των εκφάνσεων της ανθρώπινης δημιουργίας η οποία αποτελεί τη συγκολλητική ουσία μεταξύ των ανθρώπων και του κόσμου που τους περιβάλει.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Jenkins

    I have spent my professional music life (such as it is) telling myself and others that music is something you do. That's what this book is about. Not only the performer does music, but Small insists that any human who comes into contact with music (from the composer to the person who sets up chairs for people to sit in while they listen or play) is doing the music.

  3. 5 out of 5

    K

    The reason why I decided to become a musicologist back when I didn't even know what musicology was.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bennett

    probably the only work of musicology that everyone should read (ie not just musicologists).

  5. 5 out of 5

    Makiko Hirata

    "The convenience of having nouns that enables us to name and talk about things inclines us to think of every idea, every relationship, as if it were a thing. We take from the action of loving, for example, or hating, or performing good and evil acts, or telling the truth, or worshiping, or musicking, the abstractions we call love, hate, good and evil, truth, God and music, and if we are not careful we find ourselves coming to treat the abstractions as if they were more real than the actions." I "The convenience of having nouns that enables us to name and talk about things inclines us to think of every idea, every relationship, as if it were a thing. We take from the action of loving, for example, or hating, or performing good and evil acts, or telling the truth, or worshiping, or musicking, the abstractions we call love, hate, good and evil, truth, God and music, and if we are not careful we find ourselves coming to treat the abstractions as if they were more real than the actions." I think this is important. Important enough to share. And I applaud the author for having taken a strong stand against a mainstream attitude toward classical music, and how it should be delivered, especially back in 1998. I think he was very daring in pointing out to things like racism, class-ism, and elitism in classical music in its history and industry. Often, I laughed out loud the way people laugh when true things that are difficult to actually verbalize is said by someone else. However, it became more and more difficult to read toward the middle of the book, and I am giving up on ever finishing the book. The truth is, his assertion - that music is an act and not a concept - is contracted by him having written the book, because he is guilty of the same crime he is accusing the industry/history of. He goes on and on, describing how music should be, without actually presenting any music. He does offer examples, but... Anyways, it was amusing in the beginning, too much details in the middle (it may be because I just wrote a doctoral thesis on this topic, and so a lot of his claims were familiar to me), and I didn't read the end.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Stefan Szczelkun

    Musicking is music as activity rather than music as an object. The interesting thing for me about Small’s book is that it is a analysis of classical music in terms of its class operation. The first bourgeois literary idea about music is that music’s essential spirit is captured by a written score. The next step is that this score is printed and published to claim the originality of its singular authorship. The second idea is that when this score is performed it is a one-way communicat Musicking is music as activity rather than music as an object. The interesting thing for me about Small’s book is that it is a analysis of classical music in terms of its class operation. The first bourgeois literary idea about music is that music’s essential spirit is captured by a written score. The next step is that this score is printed and published to claim the originality of its singular authorship. The second idea is that when this score is performed it is a one-way communication from composer to audience, usually through the medium of an orchestra. Neither the audience nor the musician should contribute meaning although they are allowed a modicum of interpretation. Third is that there is no feedback from the audience nor communication between the audience whilst the performance is in progress - silent listening and stillness of body are required. Fourth the score sets the upper limit of what can be achieved. Fifth, the quality of serious musical works is autonomous of context - and so assumed to be universally valid. p.6 These parameters are set to place 'classical' or 'serious' music above the rest of the music in the world - “The great restless ocean of human musicking" p.11 - that does not rely on written notation. For Small this ‘ocean’ of sound is most commonly an encounter between human beings, in a particular setting, in which sounds play a central organising role. He calls this process musicking. He deconstructs the symphony concert as an example. It has now become global and aspirational. A central musical rite of the new bourgeois classes as capitalist production spread around the globe. Small seeks to find the meaning of the concert in the relationships between the people who make and attend this event rather that the relationships of notes in the score. He notes the growth of prestige concert halls around the world in the second half of the C20th. To have a concert hall is a civic essential "to signal entry into the developed world". There are perhaps as many recently-built concert halls as ones that date from when the music was mainly composed in the previous century. “A grand ceremonial space such as this imposes a mode of behaviour on those who are unaccustomed to it. The become somewhat self-conscious lowering their voices, muting their gestures, looking around them, bearing themselves in general more formally. They may even feel something like awe." p.23 "What they all have in common is, first, that they convey an impression of opulence, even sumptuousness. There is wealth here, and the power that wealth brings…. Second, they allow no communication with the outside world. Performers and listeners alike are isolated here from the world of their everyday lives." p.25 "The auditoriums design not only discourages communication amongst members of the audience but it also tells them they are there to listen and not talk back." p.27 The social contact between audience and players is reduced with separate exits and the realised platform. He contrasts this separation of functions with the old ‘Pleasure Gardens’ of London. (ref Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens) in which the social classes mingled and there was greater access for the local artist. The concert experience is that of passive and elite consumption. We can see it as a submission of the regular audience to bourgeois relations. ftnt: Another small avant guard scene is reserved for experimentalism and critique. This conservative canon is extended in a sophisticated way into the playlist of BBC Radio 3 and, in a banal way, to Classic Fm. Works by great experimental composers of the C20th like John Cage or Cornelius Cardew, are rarely heard on Radio Three. Small does not extend his argument to the avant garde. The logistics and infrastructure of a modern performance are very far from spontaneous. There is a vast management structure that promotes and defends the exclusive nature to the art form. Performers can only take part is they make their way through layers of competitions that serve to exclude most musicians. p.31 The professionals who do not make it through this highly selective process are left with less lucrative markets and are lucky if they get a season’s work in a London musical. There is no place for amateurs except in a few Youth Orchestras. The repertory that attracts a profitable audience is frozen in the first decades of the C20th. A finite number of classic works to be shared out further restricts the programme. The effect of all this is a high culture that can challenge or relate to nothing in our contemporary experience. It simply celebrates a formative moment in European Bourgeois imperialist and the ritualised gathering of a thousand or more bourgeois persons at such an event, is simply a ritual self-affirmation of their superior status. “In the improvising orchestras of the first brilliant explosion of opera in the early seventeenth century, it was leadership rather than conducting that was the keynote.” p.82 “To hear a symphony orchestra play, in fact, is to be presented with the very image of power that is under control and harnessed to a purpose.” p.122. It creates in cultural form the image of industrial production with its core myth that it is the bourgeois who are the creators (composers) and the proletarians merely trained bodies who rigorously follow the score of the mastery. “Art galleries are ritual buildings as much as are concert halls and theatres and as much as are churches and temples.” p.108 Behaviour and passivity of consumption is circumscribed in a similar way but at least the works of Art might relate to the time in which we live. In spite of this the canon of classical music is promoted (it would seem quaint if it was not delivered with such authority) as the only Real or serious music. If you are not proficient as a performer or knowledgeable as a consumer of classical music, you are not ‘musical’. If you like vulgar forms of music you have inferior taste or ‘no’ taste. “The voice is at the centre of all musical activity, but it is all to easy to silence and very hard to reactivate, since those who have been silenced in this way have been wounded in a very intimate and crucial part of their being.” p.212 This is my experience of growing up in the Fifties, and that of millions of other aspirational families that I have detailed in my early autodidact thesis CGT. http://www.stefan-szczelkun.org.uk/ta...

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sureshkumar

    An incredible perspective and scholarly discussion on the politics that informs the very nature and format of the western classical music and its live performances. Though, is extremely subjective, and author himself admits the dichotomy of him enjoying the pleasure of classical music, while being annoyed by the racial superiority and discriminative politics the very act of the performance of the piece represents. As a frequent concert goer, I will definitely read this book many times in the fut An incredible perspective and scholarly discussion on the politics that informs the very nature and format of the western classical music and its live performances. Though, is extremely subjective, and author himself admits the dichotomy of him enjoying the pleasure of classical music, while being annoyed by the racial superiority and discriminative politics the very act of the performance of the piece represents. As a frequent concert goer, I will definitely read this book many times in the future.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    "When we perform, we bring into existence, for the duration of the performance, a set of relationships, between the sounds and between the participants, that model ideal relationships as we imagine them to be and allow us to learn about them by experiencing them. The modeling is reciprocal, as is implied by the three words I have used persistently through this book: in exploring we learn, from the sounds and from one another, the nature of the relationships; in affirming we teach one another abo "When we perform, we bring into existence, for the duration of the performance, a set of relationships, between the sounds and between the participants, that model ideal relationships as we imagine them to be and allow us to learn about them by experiencing them. The modeling is reciprocal, as is implied by the three words I have used persistently through this book: in exploring we learn, from the sounds and from one another, the nature of the relationships; in affirming we teach one another about the relationships; and in celebrating we bring together the teaching and learning in an act of social solidarity. The simultaneous inward and outward flow of information that goes on throughout the performance is made possible by the fact that the language of the information is not that of words but of gestures" p. 218.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Beaudoin

    Small uses Musicking to deconstruct a symphony orchestra and as a result is able to create an inclusive definition of music that includes virtually everyone who may have any influence on the outcome of a performance, reaching far beyond the composer, musicians, and audience to also include building workers, popcorn vendors, and more. I appreciate what he is trying to do but think that his ideas begin to falter once they are applied beyond the narrow range in which Small applies them. He privileg Small uses Musicking to deconstruct a symphony orchestra and as a result is able to create an inclusive definition of music that includes virtually everyone who may have any influence on the outcome of a performance, reaching far beyond the composer, musicians, and audience to also include building workers, popcorn vendors, and more. I appreciate what he is trying to do but think that his ideas begin to falter once they are applied beyond the narrow range in which Small applies them. He privileges performance, and as a result, non-performance driven music falls to the side. His theories also assume that every single role will be performed as expected and leaves no room for the unexpected, which must always be considered in performance arts. Overall, Musicking creates a useful definition of music, and the book itself is very readable.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Thom

    I read this book when I took a philosophy of music education course in graduate school. I agreed with Small's thinking a lot in those days, and I think I still fall into that direction but I want to re-read this book to see if any of my views have changed. I guess I should re-read some Bennett Reimer after this one.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    while this book isn't about internet music per se, it's all about the active creation and listening experiences that are a part of the modern music experience even more than ever. a must-read for anyone responsible for the features and user experience of a digital music product.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lidia

    This is probably the most important book about music that you will ever read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Louis Bergonzi

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Hands

  15. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ona Marija

  17. 5 out of 5

    Emily Hilliard

  18. 4 out of 5

    Caleb Amelunke

  19. 5 out of 5

    John

  20. 4 out of 5

    Frank Tore Tjørhom

  21. 5 out of 5

    Stan Cornett

  22. 4 out of 5

    Riku-Pekka

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lukasali

  24. 5 out of 5

    Zevozole

  25. 5 out of 5

    Colin Broom

  26. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Somoroff

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jacques Vest

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ada Hunter

  29. 5 out of 5

    Paolo Pietropaolo

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lærke

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