The ignorant tune

How instrumental music is assumed as unconscious and unaware

What is ‘art’ if not a representation? Yes, words such as ‘expression’ and ‘feeling’ come to mind, but this is essentially a question of ‘definition’ and ‘presentation.’ Or, to be more precise, it is a question of intent.  

How does one define intent? For the purposes of this article, I define the word as a certain persuasion, or better yet, a desire for a specific action to be. ‘To be,’ that is, to exist in the preferred mind-set of the ‘actor.’  

Therefore, I suppose art is a representation of sorts, but the question asked previously is not whether it is but what could it be if not representation? While attending class at some point in the early weeks of September, a professor of mine inspired me with an intriguing phrase: “art is not innocent.”

Once again, the question of intent returns. Innocence suggests not only ignorance, but also denial. To say art is “not innocent” is to say that art has an ulterior motive, or even more so, a self-awareness.  

If I were to name a medium that would be the most excused and side-termed ‘innocent,’ I would argue that instrumental music might just win out over the written word.  

Music without the lyric is often assumed as, if not innocent, then unmentionable.

“Lyrics…serve as a means of

interpretation…from the

music to the audience…”

For instance, you give a random person two music excerpts to listen to, then later ask them what they learned.  Let’s assume one piece is Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space,” and the other is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Clarinet Concerto in A Major” (suppose the first movement).

Most likely, the individual will be able to describe in detail what “Blank Space” means and perhaps even further analyze and interpret the artist’s intentions and meaning behind the piece. With Mozart, the listener would probably resort to explaining the ‘feeling’ emulated from the excerpt. Music, like the generalized term ‘art,’ is often first associated with emotion. How does the music make you feel?

Lyrics, in some ways, serve as a means of interpretation of the emotion emitted from the music to the audience in question.

This is not always the case.

In some instances, the lyrics serve as a counter to the emotion being generated by the orchestration. A good example of this would be Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” in which two of the characters sing a dance like tune (similar to that of a waltz), while the lyrics themselves express a horrific plot to cook people and feed them to their customers.  

Here, we have the music projecting one emotion, while the lyrics portray a completely different scenario.  

With this mixture, we have a good, solid example of irony.

Even with the lyrics used as a translation of sorts, the instrumental part is often set aside, simply defined as ‘accompaniment.’  

This leads me to the essential purpose of this particular article. There are many ensembles on this campus; ensembles that each express various emotions, representations, and intentions throughout the year. I highly encourage you to see at least one. Attempt to hear beyond the mask of unconsciousness; music exceeds mediums of understanding that you may not have even considered before. As you continue on your fourth week of fall semester, try and remember:

“Art is not innocent,” nor is the music we listen to unconscious.

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