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Musicology vs. Performance



Musicology vs. performance

Bradley Lehman
wrote (April 22, 2004):
<< Why should Musicology and Performance be conflated? Art History and Painting, for example, have long been considered separate disciplines; a master of one is not expected to have competence in the other. Moreover, the career path of the Art Historian and Painter are completely different; likewise that of the Musicologist and Performer. Should a competent expert be a Jack-of-All-Trades?
Charles Francis wrote: < Does anyone here understand the point of this? The roles of art historians and artists are not comparable to the roles of musicologists and performers in their relationship to (and difference from) each other. >
Perhaps Charles was offering a sly compliment to those who have degrees in both musicology and performance, lauding the cross-influence that both can have on one another (without being completely conflated)?

But even without the formalities, a doctoral degree in performance alone includes serious research work, the ability to do musicological tasks at a respectable level. At least 50% of the required curriculum is not merely performance instruction: it includes music history, music theory, research methods, and study of other languages.

And my own committee chair was especially a stickler for careful writing style and coherently presented thought, in all the papers I had to submit: he had been in the fields of English and Classics earlier in his own career, before switching to music. My committee also included professors of music theory and European history, not only professors of applied performance.

Many of my classmates and friends in the musicology degree program were really not very good performers at all, nor did they pretend to be; but they were excellent researchers (as necessary to get into the program at all, and complete the assignments)...considerably better researchers than I was.

But I remember that two of the pianists on campus whose recitals I especially enjoyed were professors of dance and composition: they played with freedom and abandon, plenty of fresh spirit, not sounding cautious with the material. One of the best student pianists was an organ major, although he went all the way to the Van Cliburn international finals in piano. One of my theory professors was also an excellent pianist; and a favorite music-history professor of mine directed church music. Cross-discipline ability can be especially fruitful.


Or, perhaps Charles was simply offering a [feeble] defense of pseudo-musicology (or a pseudo-musicologIST) with no ties at all to performance experience, excusing such lack of experience as if it didn't matter.

I suspect this interpretation is the more likely one. He probably presumes that his hero is a "competent expert"--or wishes us to believe that, at least--without having to have Jack-of-All-Trades competence. (Not that it's safe to guess the intentions of irrational people, at all, and especially so with any guesswork about people who say very little about their own backgrounds, even when asked Charles and his hero both regularly dodge such questions, or try to show that experience is irrelevant. Nor have they ever shown photos of themselves at: . There's that hiding in the bushes and Knights-of-Ni helmets, again: their ambushes without ever showing themselves.)


Dale Gedcke surmised: < Apparently, Brad Lehman, has a professional career in a university that affords him the time to do both, .... professionally. >
Not so; my employer is not a university, although I have worked for universities several times in the past as an instructor and researcher. My professional gigs in music currently are whatever comes up: independent concerts, recordings, commissioned compositions, participation in festivals or conferences, and frequent playing and conducting in church. My "day job" is as a full-time computer software engineer, designing and building applications: a different type of composing in a different language, but really the same mental process. (And service trips to client sites are pretty much like onstage improvisations of music: it's all about being prepared, and then thinking quickly in the moment.) My music gigs are indeed professional ones, both in the level of work and in getting paid well for them, but music still doesn't pay very much; therefore I must "supplement" it with a full-time job outside music, to support my family. My wife is a half-time instructor at a university and the director of an academic department, while she finishes her dissertation. She's giving her students the final exams today....

In the past I was for ten years the salaried organist in churches, with all the usual weekly duties of playing service music, leading all the hymns, and working with the choir; and accompanying a community chorus on the side. I still do substitute work for some local churches. But I haven't sought any more extensive employment as an organist recently; there's just too much else to do without that weekly commitment. Maybe again someday, when the children are older. I remain impressed that Johann Sebastian Bach could handle all the workload given to him and have any time to offer to his wife and children. Regular work in music is stimulating, yes, but also exhausting.

Any research I get to do these days is hit-or-miss, in odd moments of early morning or late evening or weekends. Nevertheless, I have a paper in progress...the peers to whom I've shown the preliminary work agree that it's something strong if I can get it written up well. Not that papers pay much, either.

Uri Golomb wrote (April 22, 2004):
Brad Lehman wrote (in response to Charles's message,
< Or, perhaps Charles was simply offering a [feeble] defense of pseudo-musicology (or a pseudo-musicologIST) with no ties at all to performance experience, excusing such lack of experience as if it didn't matter. >
This reminds of Charles's contention that practicing artists do not need formal education, his implication that the skillf and knowledge of scholars are entirely unnecessary for performers, and vice versa. He's done this on BCRL (see his message, and my reply: For the benefit of those who are only on BCML: Charles claimed, as a self-evident fact, that "A competent Shakespearian actor hardly needs to perform linguistic analysis"; I replied that this claim was far from self-evidently true).

And indeed, competent actors need to know quite a lot of history, linguistics, prosody, etc. (For a demonstration of the kind of things they need to know, check the Royal Shakespeare Company's televised workshops under John Barton, published in a book under the title Playing Shakespeare; This is not to say that they need to do this on the same level of detail and knowledge as Shakespeare scholars; but they do need basic competence in more than "just acting" (or, to put it differently, competence in acting entails all of this). And many actors and directors consult with scholars -- and scholars derive much knowledge, inspiration and ideas from observing good productions. (Indeed, you can also learn much from a not-so-good production -- trying to understand what makes you think it's not good could also teach you something about the work).

The same is true for all performing and creative artists: they need to do a lot of research, and acquire considerable knowledge, in order to be truly gat their activities.

I do agree with Richard Taruskin's claims (which, I am sure, he was not the first to articulate) that performances and scholarly writings should not be judged by the same standard: an article in historical musicology has to observe the evidence scrupulously, a performance does not have to. But it still does the performers good to be aware of the evidence, even if they ultimately decide to go their own way.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 22, 2004):
What worthwhile things have we discussed and learned here today about Bach and his music (the music we perform or the performances/recordings we hear?) This is nothing but a tiresome repetition and expansion of a more than decade-old listing of past personal experiences, current workloads, and future possibilities which are primarily focused upon self-advertisement rather than discussions geared specifically toward enlightening list members and encouraging other voices to express their opinions (expert, non-expert, and everything in between) about matters that concern how we experience Bach’s music in this day and age.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 22, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < What worthwhile things have we discussed and learned here today about Bach and his music (the music we perform or the erformances/recordings we hear?) >
This piousness is particularly nauseating given that it is Thomas Braatz's ill-informed posturing and gratuitous attcks on musicians that are the origin of this thread.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 22, 2004):
Worthwhile things

< What worthwhile things have we discussed and learned here today about Bach and his music (the music we perform or the performances/recordings we hear?) >
- At least three different LP issues of a Scherchen recording of three cantatas have been available, both in mono and fake stereo.

- offers a Ledroit recording of cantatas BWV 53 and BWV 54, in stock.

- A Helen Watts recording of cantata BWV 53 has been available (although the piece is no longer credited to Bach).

- Four new scans of album covers are available on, for cantata BWV 54.

- A music collector in Switzerland believes academic competence is irrelevant for performers, and performance competence is irrelevant for researchers: thereby illuminating some of his earlier comments about Bach's music and favored recordings thereof, by clarifying his opinions and his methods of assessing value.

- Another music collector somewhere near Chicago is uncomfortable when people competent to perform and research Bach's music say anything about their experience in these matters. Evidently, experience has no value to a person who is unable to demonstrate any, and any value it might have to others must therefore be downplayed. This, in turn, serves to clarify some of his own earlier remarks about Bach-related matters.

- A scholarly musician in Virginia has expressed admiration for Johann Sebastian Bach for Bach's ability to handle a huge professional workload and multiple children.

- A composer in England has made good points about differences between musical composition, performance, and painting.

- A scholar finishing an academic degree in England has made a good point about parallels between music performance and acting.

That's nine points, at least, and other readers might be able to list more that I've missed. As Bach famously pointed out, one merely has to appreciate the good things wherever they may be found.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 22, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < As Bach famously pointed out, one merely has to appreciate the good things wherever they may be found. >
Indeed, and something interesting I've just found is this, from Channel Classics' "recordings happening":

The Netherlans Bach Society with Saint Johannes Passion. This will be a recording made with only 6 singers and no chorus. Thiis is the version for 8 voices reworked by the dutch musicologist Pieter Dirkstra.

Interesting that Jos van Veldhoven is adopting OVPP (and very radically too - no ripienists a la Parrott in this piece) in the SJP.

Dale Gedcke wrote (April 22, 2004):
Education in Musicology or Performance

Uri Golomb wrote: ".......This reminds of Charles's contention that practicing artists do not need formal education, his implication that the skills and knowledge of scholars are entirely unnecessary for performers, and vice versa. .........."
If you will suffer for a moment a 64-year-old's perspective, here it is:
1) If you are going to be excellent at your art, craft, or profession you need to assimilate all the expertise you can.
2) You can learn a great deal from experience. In fact you should make a point of continuing to learn from every-day experiences until the day you die.
3) A formal education in the basic professional skills is the most efficient way to learn what you need to get started.
4) You will not fully appreciate the significance of what they are trying to teach you during your formal education, until you have many years of practical experience in the profession. At that point you should begin teaching someone else those principles so that you learn them at a far greater depth.
5) Once you have learned the discipline required to earn a college education, and maybe even a Ph.D., you will discover that you can learn without formal teachers, because you have learned how to look for and find the information you need.
6) There are lots of examples of self-taught professionals who did not have the benefit of an efficient education. But self-taught professionals who excel are rare. And those who are successful have put in an enormous amount of work and dedication. It is extremely difficult to teach yourself the basic principles of science, mathematics and engineering that get force-fed to you in 4 years of an undergraduate university course.
7) You won't totally understand and appreciate the value of a good formal education in a profession until you have paid for the university education of all your children, and gone through the pains of supporting them through that trial by fire.

Dale Gedcke,
P.S., Just for ironic amusement, I append my 37-year-old credentials: B. Eng., M.Sc., Ph. D.. POINT 8): That's old enough to have lost almost all relevance. In other words, the 37 years of experience now outweighs the degrees. Time changes everything.

Johan van Veen wrote (April 22, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] It's not so much a 'reworking' as a reconstruction of the very first version of the SJP. In this version there is no part for the transverse flute. According to Pieter Dirksen the solo instrument in the aria 'Ich folge dir' is better suited to the violin, whereas in the aria 'Zerfliesse, mein Herze' the instrumental solo part is clearly intended for the oboe. I have heard this version live in 2001 and I found it very convincing.

BTW, I don't think Jos van Veldhoven is generally shifting into the 'OVPP camp': in the annual performance of the SMP he still uses the choir of the Netherlands Bach Society.

John Pike wrote (April 23, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] Much of this is true, but how did we get here in the first place?

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Last update: żApril 23, 2004 ż18:32:05