Thursday, 22 September 2011


About a year ago I read Christopher Small’s book Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening, a book that radically changed my understanding of the role of the composer, performer, and listener in music. In asserting that music is an activity in which the composer, performer and listener participate actively, Small turns the traditional understanding of the performer who is a conduit of the music that is written by the inspired composer and received by the passive listener upside down.

Taking Small’s argument a step further, it is not hard to appreciate that the listener can shape his or her own music experience. It is not the composer who determines how a listener should interpret his or her composition, but the listener him or herself. Over time even my own composition My Ghost of Time conjures up different images and associations.

Understanding music appreciation in this way unleashes a range of new ideas. Think, for example, of a performance as an album of stories, poems, images, perhaps sensations that we cannot express in words or images. A performance then is like turning the pages of an album and encountering a whole new imaginary world overleaf. 

Next time you listen to music, why not close your eyes for a moment and let your imagination roam free?

Copyright text and images Petra Vergunst

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