1. What is the Purpose of Performance?

This is a very important decision for which every conductor must make a choice in preparing a performance: Am I going to give an aesthetic performance or an entertainment performance?

What do we mean by the word Aesthetic? Aesthetics was a subject created by Aristotle some 3,000 years ago. He also created, at the same time, a new branch of Philosophy called Aesthetics. Aristotle was writing a book intended for young playwrights. The subject of this book was the most formal stage production of his time, Tragedy. He also wrote a book on how to write entertainment stage works, but that book is lost. The book on Tragedy which has survived is called Posey, a word which was derived from the word “poetry,” because in Aristotle’s time all stage works were given in poetry.

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2. Where does Music Exist?

This title will appeal strange to most readers, but you must remember that Music is the only Art form which you cannot see! For this reason some early writers wondered if indeed Music did exist. You can hear the performance, but when the music stops you cannot find it, it seems to have disappeared.

The solution to this apparent mystery was supplied by Aristotle who pointed out that what you hear is only a symbol of something else. For example, if you speak the word “dog,” this word is only a symbol of the real animal, not the actual animal. And if you write the word “dog” the written word is only a symbol of the spoken word which is only a symbol of the real animal, thus we are now two generations away from the actual animal. This sequence is precisely the problem when we try to notate Music on paper. Music notation is only a symbol of actual Music. In fact, the symbols of Music we see on paper are really only symbols of the Grammar of Music.

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4. Music as an Expression of Time

Time is something we are all aware of to some degree but since we cannot see Time we must create labels for it in order to allow Time to function in our lives. For example, to speak of the rotation of the Earth we call this a “day.” For the rotation of the Earth around the Sun, we label this a “year.” But the use of these man-made labels is very limited, as for example in describing the planet Venus using these same definitions do not work, for there a “day” lasts longer than a “year!”

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5. What is the purpose of a conductor?

The role of the conductor we know today is something relatively new because this role was not possible until the availability of full scores, which were first published in the early 19th century. Before that music was just published in individual parts in part books. So if you were a Tenor, for example, and were going to perform the Madrigals of Gesualdo you would have in your hands only the Tenor part and your understanding of the music could only come from hearing the other parts in rehearsal. This was also the case in the earlier manuscript music of the Roman Church, as for example those huge manuscript pages divided into individual parts, Superius, Altus, Tenor, etc., often without even measure bars. Those early Church singers were more or less full time singers and we may imagine them spending long rehearsals just to be able to hear how to stay together.

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7. What if there is an error in the score?

The History of a single measure in the Trauermusik of Wagner

In Essay Nr. 2, I explained the fact that there is no music in the score, only symbols of the actual music. But, at the same time we were all trained as conductors to believe that the score is the true representative of the composer and that we must analyze every single chord, etc. Over and above this, we have inherited since the late Middle Ages a music notational system which for the first time in history made music something for the eye, not the ear.

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8. On the Supernatural

I suppose all intelligent persons who reach an advanced age must have observed many things which our humble brain cannot explain, or more likely Einstein’s famous observation applies, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” It is also the case that over the course of Time one notices the explanations of Church and School but one is just too busy to stop and meditate on unexplainable phenomena. Good things that “happen” to us my mother attributed to the “guiding hand,” but I noticed she had no comparable phrase to attribute to the not-so-good things which happen to us.

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9. On the Physical Nature of Music

There are three important characteristics of music, which I think most people would agree with.

Music is for the ear. We do not eat music, nor smell music, nor see music. In our modern age we call what we see on paper, “music,” but it is not. What is on paper is in part a symbol of music, but it is a symbol of only the grammar of music. There are no symbols on the paper for feeling or emotions, which is the real role of music.

Music exists only in live performance before a listener. A recording is not music. The recording bears the same relationship to music as does a photograph to a real person.

The purpose of music is to understand and communicate emotions. While everyone understood this for thousands of years, it became clear with the modern clinical findings on our bicameral brain. The right brain, where the experimental and personal emotions lie, is mute. It cannot make a sentence. The left brain, a depository of secondary data, includes language, but when it comes to talking about music or writing about music, as is clearly also true with the emotions of love, the left brain is tasked with writing about something it knows nothing about. Thus the importance of music — a language of feeling which can be heard and understood by all.

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10. On Emotion and Music

Music is distinct from the other arts in many ways, but in no way more fundamental than in its unique synthesis with the physiology of man. Not only did early man hear the overtone series in every sound he heard and depend on pitch awareness for survival, but recent research has established that every organ of his body produced a specific pitch. In addition, all philologists agree that some form of music, sung vowel-like expressions of basic emotions, preceded the earliest speech and was man’s first form of oral communication. We carry this genetically, as we still invest every sentence we speak with musical contour. There is a long history of the recognition of our bicameral brain and it is the very physiology of the brain that provides music with its great power to express what the rational mind cannot. And this is why the definition of music as a special language for the communication of feelings and emotions is probably the definition most people would understand, even the common uneducated masses.

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