Knowing The Score

How do we identify “expressiveness” in music? It depends on who’s listening:

Recent empirical work has shown that listeners tend to be unable to say if the expressiveness they are hearing originates from the composition or the performance. Studying the experience of professional musicians highlights how differently they approach their performance. For them the score is never just notes on paper but already music imagined as sound. This imagination depends on their socio-cultural, historical position, personality, and education. They use metaphors and heuristics, short-cuts that package up accumulated knowledge and speeds up problem solving in preparation for and during performance. They rarely speak of specific emotions to be conveyed but conceive of music as “emotional,” “dramatic,” “uplifting,” or “turbulent,” for instance.

This is true of music and musicians of other artistic traditions, like classical Hindustani music. According to the dhrupad singer Uday Bhawalkar, “Music without emotion is not music at all, but we cannot name this emotion, these emotions, we cannot specify them.” The sentiments or emotions that we encounter in daily life become transformed into aesthetic experiences in theatre.

(Video: Uday Bhawalkar sings Dhrupad)