Together we’ve been playing music for a total of 50 years. Well, not together, but cumulatively. Both of us have lived and breathed it since we were children. Both of our fathers were musicians. I, Professor Specs, have studied music academically for nearly 20 years earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in the subject. Yet, when I lay awake in bed at night and think about that thing to which I have dedicated most of my efforts in this life, I cannot define it.
Granted, definitions for “music” do exist. But those categories rarely can hold in all that we experience, feel, and think of when we think of “music.” Intuitively, we all know what music is, but at the same time we don’t.
Why does this matter?
Well, it matters a great deal right now because the turmoil which surrounds the artform is not simply manifesting as the result of technological advancement – though there is that. The confusion arises, first and foremost, because we don’t know what music IS. And not knowing what it IS makes it hard to know what to do with it.
It was at a conference that I spearheaded in 2011 that some direction to wresting with this problem was brought forth. In his plenary lecture, painter Bruce Herman quoted the poet William Carlos Williams.
No ideas but in things.
That’s where the notion occurred to us to stop treating music as an “idea” but as a “thing.” Much of what FP has done since then is a way to begin to work through that process. The goal is to ask important questions about music at the dawn of the 21st century to hopefully develop a more meaningful understanding of this meaningful art form, in order to know how to talk about it better, how to advocate for it better, and ultimately how to make it better.