Performance is a part that covers many important issues such as aesthetical, psychological, philosophical and practical issues. It is one of the foundation parts of music teaching and learning which many people take it to be quite straightforward and realistic. Performance requires the player to engage personally and on the spot to the structure and the music sense, not only the preservation process.
In the other hand, music is another type of language spoken by people all over the world. It connects different backgrounds and identity for it has become every living human beings native ‘language’ ever since thousands years ago. You don’t have to be an African to sing Blues Jazz or grew up on the country side to be able to play folk tunes. As you could distinguish between any genre and style, you would be able to interpret it in your own way. However, music language is essential, though vague. It cannot be decipher literally, or will be mislead.
Interpreting could bring different meanings to different subject, for example in language - interpreting a language is to understand it. But in music, interpreting music means to make music for both artiste and musician. It brings a new perspective to the particular music when musicians interpreting an existed composition in his or her own way and gives more surprises that injected ‘soul’ to the whole performance.
Interpreting music require us to read the score or text. There are two types of reading that works differently which is efferent reading and aesthetic reading. An efferent reading will be useful once the reading process ends as we read systematically only to abstract information or ideas. While, an aesthetic reading is a kind of reading that focusing on the reading process, from the start throughout the whole text as if the reader is living or having a relationship with it. Usually, the aesthetic performer will create more creative ‘blueprint’ that has its own uniqueness on its own class by ‘living and breathing through’ the notated signs and symbols.
Generally, one person interpretations could be diverse from another person even if they came from the same background. Hence, no interpretations could go wrong as it is a performer’s individual creativity. Although music is subjective, it is proven that a composition has a structure and it has been studied ever since 19th century. This means, in interpreting music as a performer, one should be able to understand the language - all the forms, textures, methods and theories in composing music. But as an artist, though we comply with the rules of musical grammar and syntax, there is no right or wrong in complementary it with our own creativity, unlike spoken language which has its fundamental rules to be followed. However, such musical terms as sentences, phrase, segment and voices rise and fall are derived from figure of speech.
According to Rosalind Tureck from Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University, it is hardly arguable that the (human) brain (tends to formulate) the usual approach to organizing data in a meaningful way, tends to impress formulations (of any range from simplistic to complex) upon material under observation. If this phrase is to be applied to musicians or performers, it means – a musician or a performer tend to create their own tempo, dynamics and expression as they pleased but without breaking too many rules that will change the compositions totally. Although the performer has fully control on the creative side of playing and expressing the music, they still have concerns on few matters regarding on traditions, current style or contemporary style, vocal and instrumental techniques.
Theodor W. Adorno, a German sociologist, philosopher and musicologist referred musical interpretation as a performance. As synthesis it retains the similarity to language while obliterating every specific resemblance, as translated from his essay on Modern Music – Quasi una Fantasia – by Rodney Livingstone. In which it means interpretation is also an integral part of music, not just an accidental attributes.
Marissa Silverman comes out with a theory that musical performance has two opposite views which is in vogue now, a formalist view and a subjective view, and some interpretive stances in between them. Her theory is supported, based on three main principles that are useful in musical interpretation;
i. text is a composition of printed signs that point to something beyond themselves;
ii. meaning ‘flows’ from the reader–text interaction; and
iii. ‘Readers’ construct meaning by drawing from previous experiences, personality traits, memories of past events, present needs and preoccupations, a particular mood of the moment, and a particular physical condition.
Silverman also argues that interpretation is more than ‘an aural photocopy of a score’. It is the act of ‘bringing one’s whole being into the performing event’ intellectually, socially, culturally, artistically, physically, emotionally and personally.
Rosenblatt has come out with the three main principles that had been used by Silverman to create her theory about musical performance as I stated above, but he never meant to underestimate the role or value of the text, as we should respect the authors. Because we need a guide when we are trying to make meaning, and the text or scores is the only guidance apart from the author or the composer. However, what was meant by Rosenblatt was, once an author or composer published or distribute his work into the world, the work is no longer ‘own’ by the author or the composer alone. It has become a performer or a reader responsibility to make the work meaningful by living and breathing through it cautiously, as the entire reading process is also part of a performance.
According to Rosenblatt, performing doesn’t mean that a performer should re-create the composer’s written intentions as identical as possible. Because what was written on the paper is not the final performance, it is only a guide for a performer to understand it. No matter if the performer chooses the wrong or right decision, or successfully pulled out the show or not, that is what we consider as real performance or final performance of a composer’s work.
Some scholars, performers and teachers having a concept in their head that a performer is only the ‘servant’ of the composer, as they have the opinion that a performer only have to sounds out a notated score as strictly as what is written and instructed on the paper by the composer instead of letting the score speak for itself through a performer’s previous experiences. Stephen Davies, a music philosopher, supports this view by commenting; “Performance calls for concentration on the business of sounding the work. The player needs to focus, not to remote and not to simulate experiences she does not have”. Music psychologists also have the same opinion about performing, where performers should concentrate their studies on the technical skills, practice time and talent so they can sound out musical scores exactly as instructed on the paper. However, different people with different backgrounds has their own thought which they think is the most reasonable, but at the end of the day we have to look back and digest all the opinions, research, proven facts and our own experiences in order to understand better about how far our opinion is coping with the reality.
Keith Swanwick believes that a performer should develop a plan or a ‘blueprint’ of a performance that they want to perform before jumping straight to the idea and play it without going to any directions. Even though a performer has the right and responsibility to interpret a score’s instructions, uncover and communicate its meanings, they have modest liberty to interpret a musical work for they must stick closely to the craft and technique that takes to understand the structure of a work.
E. T. A. Hoffmann emphasizing his point about; musical meaning was formed by the combination of the reader’s or performer’s score, the listener, and the sounds (mental or actual sounds). Performer has the power to share their thoughts, belief and emotions of a particular score at a particular time and place to the listeners.
As a conclusion, performers have to understand that they have multi-dimensional responsibilities in creating an artistic-aesthetic interpretation of a score. First and foremost, they must read the score and live through it before view themselves as a co-creator not a re-creator based on Rosenblatt’s principle. They must ‘read’ in efferent and aesthetically in order to interpret and express the real meaning of the score. Always understand that musical score is a point of departure not arrival as commented by Aaron Copland: “An even better analogy for the reenactment of the text is the musical performance. The text of a poem or of a novel or a drama is like a musical score. The artist who created the score – composer or poet – has set down notations for others, to guide them in the production of a work of art”. The key to the artistic and aesthetic understanding is to make an art work meaningful. It is about making choices. Interpretation is a process of making a decision from a variety of alternative.
Silverman, Marissa. “Musical interpretation: philosophical and practical issues.”
International Society for Music Education: ISME (New York University) (Aug, 2007)
Adorno, T.W. “Music and Language: A Fragment.” VERSO (London) (1956)
Mitchell, Danlee and Logan, Jack. “About Interpretation in Music.” San Diego State University
19 Sept. 2011
Tureck, Rosalyn. “Musical Interpretation.” Boston University 16 Sept. 2011