Happy New Year! Let’s talk about music notation…

After a brief holiday hiatus, The Avid Listener is back with another fabulous feature essay. This week we offer you a taste of Thomas Forrest Kelly’s new book, Capturing Music: The Story of Notation. In this post, Kelly asks to think about the purpose(s) of notation. What does it do for us? What does notation have to do with the way we interact with music? How does notation reflect how we hear music? Here’s an excerpt:

“The air around us is filled with sounds. Some are annoying, some are pleasing, and some provide us with information we need. Noise, music, language—what they have in common is that they happen in real time. The moment we hear them is the moment in which they exist, and as soon as we have heard them, they are gone into what we call the past.

The idea of the existence of the past is tricky, and I’m no philosopher. But a sound I heard a moment ago may still be resonating somewhere, or being heard by someone else, and so the past, in a sense, may exist somewhere. Like the ripples in a pond, it’s possible that sounds made in Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris a thousand years ago still have the tiniest residual effect on the motion of air in that building. Maybe the breaths of ancient singers are still, imperceptibly, resonating somewhere…”

Read the entire feature essay here. As always, we welcome your comments and questions!

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