CONTEMPLATING KERMAN'S POLARITIES


[1.] Just a couple of stray thoughts on Kerman's Contemplating Musicology, and the separation of history, theory, analysis etc. in general. (Well, okay maybe more than a couple of thoughts - brace yourselves...)

[2.] In the opening chapter, Kerman states that history forms a better basis for critical musicology than music theory or ethnomusicology. "What I uphold and try to practice is a kind of musicology oriented towards criticism, a kind of criticism oriented towards history." He makes a lot of noise about positivism in musicology and the need for a more critically-oriented approach to musical scholarship. And judging by chapter three (contemplating music theory) and chapter six (contemplating ethnomusicology), he associates theory and ethnomusicology with positivism (for the most part), as opposed to history, which in chapter four he clearly associates with criticism citing Rosen and Kramer (among others) as examples of 'musicological criticism'.

[3.] Concerning music theory specifically, Kerman cites David Levin's polarization of music theory and music analysis: that music theory utilizes the musical work to formulate general principles, whereas analysis explicates the work as an individual entity. The difference is in the result: one generalizes the piece of music while the other specifies it. I suppose that this fits the growth and limitations polarity rather nicely - analysis is the growth factor while theory is the limitation factor.

[4.] Both Alex and Melissa take issue with the sharp distinctions made between musical field of inquiry. Kerman's separation of music theory, analysis, music history, ethnomusicology, is a little hard to swallow - for sure these fields DO have a lot to learn from each other. Nonetheless, a certain amount of distinction amongst these fields is important, and perhaps even necessary. (A necessary evil? Hmmm.)

[5.] Just for fun, let's draw upon a medical analogy. Say for example you have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Where should you go for treatment? If you go to a psychiatrist, some drugs will be prescribed to stimulate the docile neurotransmitter in your brain. If you go to a psychologist, you will be subjected to numerous counselling sessions in an attempt to help you understand and to some extent control your personal habits and environment. If you go to a chiropractor, you will be given a series of adjustments - probably to ease the pressure on the base of your neck, which is important nerve centre for concentration [although I can't be sure of this - check one out if you want to know more]. If you go to a nutritionist, you will be given a list of foods - some to stay away from and some to consume in large quantities. If you go to an acupuncturist needles will be stuck into various parts of your body in an attempt to get you to relax [Seriously...it works!]. On the other hand, if you go to a general practitioner, you will probably be told that there is no such thing as ADHD and it is all in your mind. All of these people will insist that their method is the correct one and that the others are faulty, so you are left to decide for yourself what is the best approach. But in their dogmaticism (or perhaps close-mindedness) each of these specialists (with the possible exception of the last one) has developed an individual technique that gives you a certain amount of choice or flexibility in your treatment.

[6.] Drawing on Lewin's distinction, a musical analyst today - as opposed to a music theorist - has a wide variety of analytical techniques to draw on for use in analysis. But these techniques are the result of the studies of musical theorists. As Jennifer has pointed out "the grey" or the area between these two polarities is what the critic is tying to get a grasp of, because this is the area that most people who are involved in music fall into.

[7.] I really do not understand why Kerman claims that music history is a better basis for criticism than music theory. Music history in itself contains just as much positivism as music theory - Kerman admits this himself in chapters two and four. But positivistic research is not an evil in itself - in fact it is necessary - so long as musical research doesn't stop with positivism.

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