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Monday, July 9, 2012

I Love You, and Wittgenstein

`I love you', said the man.
`But why?` asked the woman.
`I can't tell you. I just simply love you', said the man.
If you ask people which music they really like, or even love, they often come up with an answer but find it hard to explain why. 

Mind you: I am not talking about the question which music they think is good.
Good is an argument, a judgment; and people will talk for quite some time answering the `good'-question. The question about nice is the opposite: instead of starting to talk, people start to think, to search for words. Nice is not an argument, it is a feeling. It can be expressed, preferably in metaphors of all kinds, but it can not be explained.

`I love you', said the woman.
`But why?', asked the man.
`Because you are funny. And sweet. And caring. And I like your smile,' said the woman.
`So is the neighbor,' said the man. `Nice smile, too.'
`Yeah. But still,' said the woman.

Sometimes people mix liking with judging. They try to explain why they like some music by explaining how good it is. Listen to that guitar solo - isn't that excellent? Listen to those chord changes - aren't they exciting? Listen how this singer is capable of moving your soul by doing hardly anything - isn't that great? Listen how interestingly this composer destroys our ideas of what musicality is. But it never is convincing. Yes, yes, I hear it is excellent and exciting and great and interesting. But I still don't like it. It doesn't move me (metaphor); it doesn't enter (another metaphor); no goosebumps (and another one).

This is one of the two big mistakes in music education - that you can learn pupils to like something. The other big mistake is that, although you can't learn  pupils to like something, at least they should be completely gripped by learning to judge in terms of good and not good. Admittedly sometimes people like music which they encountered in the music classroom for the first time. That's a great thing. But I am quite sure that if you look precisely, they did not start to like it because the teacher explained it so excellently, or because they themselves studied it so carefully. They maybe started to think of it as good music through all that; as interesting music. But the feeling that it also is nice music, or even beautiful music, comes from somehwere else.

People sometimes are able to point to a certain time, a certain place, a certain person playing a role in their starting to like music. But which role that is, and how it works, is in the end as unexplicable as ever. Therefor, sometimes times, places or persons are presented as causes rather than circumstances; `I like this music because my parents used to play it at Christmas in the living room while we played Monopoly'. Certainly; but why that leads to liking that music remains a mystery (unless you are one of those psychologists having a problem distinguishing causes, effects and circumstances anyway).

It is hard to separate the liking and the judging; they sometimes come hand in hand; and just as the feeling that some music is good or interesting may grow slowly over the years, so may the love for some music grow very slowly. Love at first sight surely exists, also in music. But a gradual growth is probably just as common.

`You can't discuss taste,' we tend to say. If taste means judging, finding music interesting or good, then actually you cán discuss it. Endlessly. If taste means liking, finding music beautiful or moving (metaphor), the words of Ludwig Wittgenstein may count: `Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent'.

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