November 15, 2002
Vol. II, No. 42
"What Does Blue Food Taste Like?"
Lately I've been frustrated by the inability of words to describe musical experiences. Imagine having to explain to someone how a particular food tastes by describing only its color and texture. French Fries: brownish-yellow, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, greasy. Strawberries: red, bumpy on the outside, soft, maybe mushy on the inside. It's absolutely impossible to convey the taste of food to someone in this way. Yet that's sort of what people who write about music try to do all the time.
Of course, there are plenty of words we use to talk about a piece of music (and food): a score (recipe) contains indications for dynamics, tempo, keys, orchestration (ingredients), articulation, registration, (spices, sauces, icing), structure (type of cooking pan), and genre (baked, boiled, or fried). Program notes for a performance offer information about the instruments used, acoustics of the performance space, performance techniques, the history of the composition, a biography of the artist, or perhaps even a discussion of the social and political ramifications of the composer's body of work (sounds like an entire episode of Martha Stewart!).
But as interesting as all this information is, words can't begin to explain the mysteries that unfold as we're performing or listening to a piece of music. Some "chefs" may be able to scan a "recipe" and have a pretty good idea of what a particular "dish" might "taste" like but for the rest of us, the only sure way to get a "taste" is by "cooking" and "eating" it ourselves. Simply reading ABOUT music reminds me of those popular shows on the Food Network where the viewers at home never get to sample the final product!
So why try to write about musical experiences? Why not let these experiences speak for themselves? Because it's perfectly natural to want to share an enjoyable experience with others and there's nothing better than sharing a good "meal" with family and friends. When I have a strong emotional reaction as I'm playing or listening to a piece of music, my impulse is to express and share those feelings. As a musician and writer, I'll always enjoy "cooking for others" and "tasting the food."
I'll end by suggesting an exercise: Select a Bach composition you're familiar with from playing or listening, preferably one you think is really great. Now, try to write a couple of sentences about why you think it's so good. Not so easy, right? However, if you feel you've had a breakthrough, email me your results. Perhaps we can beat this thing yet. (And then bake it.)
Click this link to read comments and offer your own:
Composition Free Exchange page:
Community member Norman L. Selby offers his interpretation of "Amazing Grace" (New Britain). Because composers are listed alphabetical, you'll need to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page.
Have a great week and stay away from the blue food!
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