Updated: Mar 16, 2021
There is composition. There is performance. But why do so many neglect this aspect of music?
In a recent article, I wrote about the important role that communication plays in the compositional process.
Ironically, as important as communication is, it is often one of the last considerations of both composer and performer.
I ran across this article recently in The Guardian. In the article, conductor Mark Wigglesworth emphasizes this same point, saying, "Music is an act of communication" [emphasis mine].
Obviously I would agree, but it's the reason behind this fact that I would like to discuss in more detail.
Pretty much everything has a reason for existing, right?
The reason a house exists is for shelter. The reason a car exists is for transportation. And the reason music exists, much like a phone, is for communication.
Music can do several things... It can entertain. It can stimulate the mind. But music is only effective when it communicates.
Because when music communicates, it entertains AND stimulates the mind.
If I wrote a book of fiction and I rambled on using the most beautiful and sophisticated words of Old English, it might sound lovely, but only a very few would understand what I'm saying. Then the reader would ask the question... "Why does this book exist?"
However, if I wrote a book of fiction and used common words and phrases, I could competently tell a story and if done effectively, I could entertain the reader as well as stimulate the reader's mind.
Music is similar in that the language used must be understood by the listener. If a more sophisticated language is used by the composer, it must be used within a greater context of a more familiar musical language.
For example, atonal (non tonal) harmony can only be understood within the context of a more tonal musical language.
So now we've established why the point of music is to communicate.
But effective communication requires two things:
1. The composer must know their audience.
An author can't write an article for a medical journal and present it to grade school children.
Similarly, a composer cannot write highly complex music and present it to an audience that is unfamiliar with that particular genre.
2. The composer must know their musicians.
There's probably no worse act than composing a very challenging piece of music for beginner level musicians.
That's not fair to the musicians or the audience.
If the musicians are struggling to perform your music, they are not going to communicate your message very well.
So now we know the why and the how of effectively communicating to an audience.
Do you think that communication to an audience is the most important aspect of music? And is communication the most neglected aspect of music? Let me know in the comments section...