Seeking to Define…Or Not.

“I do not compose, I assemble materials,” said Aaron Copland.  Fascinating, isn’t it?
Take a listen to this work for soprano and orchestra by the late Witold Lutosławski.  Some might call Lutosławski’s work this “assembly” of materials Copland was talking about.
We’ve all participated in conversations trying to define what music “really is.”  But one cannot define such a thing as music, because that’s exactly what music isn’t.  From Cage and Reich to David Lang, there is only one idea that has stuck for me.  Dr. Tom Gibson initiated this quest for meaning, and that is of music as metaphor.
Think about Copland’s Third Symphony for a moment.  Now, turn the Lutosławski back on for a few minutes.  Vastly different, right?  Or are they?
These composers speak to us in what we perceive to be very different languages, but both speak to us in ways that can only be achieved through music. Philosopher David Hume would have called this association of ideas.  This association of ideas is not so distant from the idea of music as metaphor.
Music completely relies on what Hume is talking about, working with the space between our inner selves and the entire universe.  Assembling materials is exactly right, but that’s just the beginning: that aural association is a mere initiation of the true music.
Next time we hear something and think, “That sounds ‘different,’” consider whether it’s the sound that is important.

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