Updated: Oct 4, 2020
Different musicians accomplish different things during a performance, but all successful ones do this.
If I were to pose the question, "What is your goal when writing or performing a piece of music?" What would your response be? I'm sure there would be many different responses. Here are some that quickly come to mind:
To entertain audiences
To be expressive
To evoke an emotional response
To create a sense of shared emotions
To generate excitement
All of these are terrific answers, but they also fall under a broader category:
The primary goal for every composer and every musician is to communicate.
Communication is a relatively straight forward task when is comes to something like an aria, a hymn, or choral music. Communicating musically without the use of verbal language, however, is much less intuitive.
Regardless of the genre, communication is a vital part of the musical process. In order to successfully communicate, a three part chain of events has to occur.
At the heart of every piece of music, is the intent of the composer. If the composer is doing his or her job, they are composing music that has a clear message of communication.
Mood, for example, can be established through harmony, rhythm, and melody. But many unique messages can be conveyed through each of the tools at the disposal of a skilled composer.
As I mentioned briefly in this article, techniques such as repetition and elongation can communicate a variety of meaningful ideas to an audience.
In performances, it's the job of the musician to interpret the intended message of the composer and turn that message into a reality for an audience.
As mentioned above, the musicians have to find the intended meaning in the music so that it can be communicated to the audience.
The clearer that message is established by the composer, the easier it becomes for the musician (or conductor) to deliver that message to a listener.
If the composer establishes a motive early, for example, a good musician can place emphasis on this motive knowing it will be played in different contexts throughout the music. As this motive is repeated, it becomes more meaningful — partially due to how it is handled by the musician.
Finally, communication is meaningless if nobody is there to hear it. The audience plays a significant role in the communication process.
The listener has to be open to receive the intended message of the composer as it is brought to life by the performer. If the music is created well and interpreted properly, it has a very good chance of being received appropriately.
Just to summarize, music is a message that needs to be communicated, and communication is a three step process.
Regardless of the part in which you participate, every musician has an important role to play.
If you are a composer, performer, conductor, or audience member, you are a vital link in the chain of communication.
So, what do you think? Have you had difficulty communicating to audiences? Is communication the most important goal in composition and performance? Let me know in the comments section...