Words and Music

So, I was reading an interview here* with a dancer, and one of the things that came up was dancers’ distrust of language as a means of communication – the person being interviewed mentioned being ‘afraid of expression through language’. I found this really striking.

I enjoy watching ballet and modern dance, although I don’t get to as much as I would like. I find it hard to articulate what I like or don’t like about it, partly because I don’t know much of the technical vocabulary but mostly because when your art form arises from form, movement and arrangements of space it’s hard to put what is going on into words.

And I very often feel like I do not understand something if I cannot put it into words. Music cannot be put into words, of course, but with music it bothers me if I can’t nail down a word or a phrase or some verbal expression of what it evoked for me. Not because I want music to be text, but because being unable to articulate how I feel or what I think gives me a sense of there being a barrier between me and the thing I want to understand. I don’t feel as if I’ve completely experienced or processed a given thing, either aesthetically or emotionally, until I can write about it.

Part of this is training. My job involves a great deal of analytical writing, both in terms of what I do myself, and what I am (in theory at least) teaching other people how to do.

But part is inclination. And oddly enough, one of the things I really enjoy about music, and about watching dance on the rare occasions that this happens, is that it pushes back against the part of my brain that insists that I do not understand something if I cannot verbalize it. The times that I enjoy music the most are usually the times when I am absorbed in the internal structure of it or the emotion. The times, in other words, when I am not taking notes.

This implies that there’s probably an inherent tension between why I listen to music and why I enjoy writing about it. I’m not sure what I think about that. But since it appears to be a fairly productive tension, I think I’ll leave it alone.

*Link goes to the blog and not the post, since the way WordPress does automatic pingbacks/trackbacks always makes me feel like I’m spamming people if I link to specific posts.

2 thoughts on “Words and Music

  1. Thank you. You have articulated a bunch of thoughts that have been buzzing around in my head. Do you find that knowing you are going to write about something inhibits your ability to enjoy it? I was wondering about that as I was failing to really enjoy Tosca on Friday night. Are we Morris Zapp?

    It had never occurred to Zapp to ask himself if he liked Jane Austen. It would probably have struck him as vaguely unprofessional if he had.

    Quote from memory so may not be word perfect.


    1. I do worry that I don’t enjoy things as much when I know I’m going to write about them. At times I find it difficult to get really immersed in something, particularly if I’m hearing it for the first time, because there’s a part of my brain that’s always “well, what do I think about this? What am I going to say about it?” It makes it harder to get lost in the music/performance. And ultimately of course this is counter-productive: because it’s that very immersion that leads to having something to say about the music later at all.

      I don’t think we’re Morris Zapp yet, but sometimes it seems like a possibility.


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