Rethinking Music: Ontologies of Music

Title: Rethinking Music

Editors: Nicholas Cook and Mark Everist

This book is a collection of essays on the same broad theme, written by some of the most prominent musicologists of this generation. The systematic presentation of modern music is useful to any reflective composer. There is nothing like understanding what someone else believes to clarify your own point of view. Here, rather than a review of the whole book, are analyses of three essays.

Essay 1 - The Ontologies of Music by Philip V. Bohlman

Bohlman begins with the strong affirmation that music is subjective, that we all understand it from different points of view. As each of us moulds a perspective, we have our own ontology of music. This makes any objective assessment of music's value impossible. Bohlman does not address this fact, more concerned with the ontologies themselves.

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Paul Westermeyer and "Te Deum"

Title: Te Deum - The Church and Music

Author: Paul Westermeyer

This book ought to be a useful study of the Church's changing use of music. It is not.

Paul Westermeyer nods affectionately towards humanistic qualms while showing tremendous disrespect towards those Christians with whom he disagrees. This combination of the concilliatory mediator and totalitarian makes the book difficult to read, let alone recommend. When you are being kicked very hard, it really does not matter very much if the person kicking you is smiling benignly at someone else.

Humanism at its heart

1. Westermeyer believes in man's ability to be objective. Pure Kantianism.

"The value of objectivity suggests yet another reason for the study of church music, namely, backing off for a dispassionate view. Music, worship, and theological points of view involve us all at points beyond the rational. They arouse emotions and both conscious and subconscious likes and dislikes, which is true whether we are believers, nonbelievers, pietists, fundamentalists, orthodox, agnostics, or atheists. Nonrational factors are always at work when one deals with issues of this kind....  A study of this type gives you a chance to back off, suspend emotions and coercive tactics for a period of dispassionate investigation, and give everything a hearing." (page 5)

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The Music of the Spheres: Music, Science and the Natural Order of the Universe

Title: The Music of the Spheres: Music, Science and the Natural Order of the Universe

Author: Jamie James

Published: Abacus, 1995

"There was a time when the universe was believed to cohere, when human life had a meaning and purpose. ... The key to the universe is no longer of use to anyone, because the exquisite edifice it once unlocked has crumbled into nothingness. Nonetheless, it does seem worth knowing that down through the vastest [sic] majority of history, our ancestors believed that the world made sense, that it was a place where they belonged. And because they were human even when they were wrong, we can belong there, too."

The Music of the Spheres by Jamie James, p.xiv-xv

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