[Smt-talk] Theory impacting performance‏

Paul Cadrin paulcadrin at hotmail.com
Thu Jul 5 08:04:58 PDT 2012

Dear Colleagues, I have always been somewhat annoyed by the attitude of those musicians who are concerned with the "practical" applications of theory (or lack thereof). We all have experienced that situation where somebody totally foreign to music will question the "practical" usefullness of our art. In the eyes of a significant portion of the population, including many of those who hold the reins of political and economical power, we are all useless parasites! That a musician should not understand the "impractical uselessness" of something like music theory, to me, is a deep and mysterious paradox. This paradox is amplified by the fact that there are few, if any, positions for people who would like to practice "pure" theory, a situation that scientists in some other fields are not always faced with. There is such a thing as "pure" theoretical research in domains like mathematics, astrophysics, even economics. In music, those of us who like to consider themselves primarly as theorists have to teach theory to budding musicians who, too often, consider that as precious time lost to practicing their instrument. Why, then, are we crazy enough to invest our better intellectual energies in such a "useless" endeavour? I think that, ultimately, the only answer to that question is the same as the proverbial answer of the mountain climber to the question as to why one should risk one's life for the sake of mountain climbing: because the mountain is there. Fascination with theoretical approaches to music is certainly as valid a pursuit as the search for Higgs' elusive boson (and much cheaper, by the way). We all hope to instill a little bit of that fascination in our students, the vast majority of which will certainly never even consider a carreer in music theory. Which is not a good reason for keeping that part of their brain dormant for the rest of their life!Maybe this should be the beginning of a paper "In praise of uselessness"!Paul Cadrin
Musicologue sans frontières
Montréal (Québec) Canada
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