Today in class, we discussed Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony. I was struck by the uniformly powerful effect that this piece seems to have had on most of the members of our class, and I enjoyed the quote we read aloud (I'm paraphrasing here): "I'm not a religious person, but when I listen to Mahler, I become religious. He somehow manages to capture a sense of the infinite." A quick google search after class revealed page after page of listeners who have had similar experiences with Mahler's 2nd; sheer numbers will prove that this piece has the power to effect change! So what endows a musical work with this kind of evocative, uplifting, altering power? Does the power lie in the music itself (in its craft and composition)? Does it rest in some musical allusion to a universal human journey, some expression of absolute truth? Does it demand something from its audiences (and if so, what)?
Here's what it seems to boil down to for Cook:
*The composer's job: To create an environment where listeners can experience music as a natural phenomenon while recognizing it as a human construction and then to use this "hidden persuader" to cross barriers created by faulty assumptions.
*The audience's job: To listen with open ears and minds, ready to gain insight into other cultures/subcultures (in a word, to be willing to consider and possibly accept new forms/levels of truth).
*The net result: The ability to bridge cultural gaps, to encourage individuals and societies to reconstruct their own identities, and to effect lasting, positive change.
Here's the full quote:
"If both music and musicology are ways of creating meaning rather than just of representing it, then we can see music as a means of gaining precisely the kind of insight into the cultural 'other' that a pessimistic musicology proclaims to be impossible. If music can communicate across barriers of difference, it can do so other barriers as well. One example is music therapy, where music communicates across the cultural barrier of mental illness. But the most obvious example is the way we listen to the music of other cultures (or, perhaps even more significantly, the music of subcultures within our own broader culture). We do this not just for the good sounds, but in order to gain some insight into those cultures. And if we use music as a means of insight into other cultures, then equally we can see it as a means of negotiating cultural identity. Music becomes a way not only of gaining some understanding of the cultural 'other' but also of shifting your own position, constructing and reconstructing your own identity in the process. Music, in short, represents a way out of cultural pessimism. If we don't experience music as though it were a phenomenon of the natural world then we cut ourselves off from a means of overcoming difference. But at the same time we need to know that music is not a phenomenon of the natural word but a human construction. It is the ultimate hidden persuader."
Do we agree?