The question that continued to present itself to me in this course was “do you buy it?”. I’m still working out my feelings in regards to certain kinds of musicology, but this semester was really useful for examining arguments about symbolism in musical texts. It’s helped me to clarify what I am interested in both as a casual listener and a student of musicology. The course has allowed me to compare methods of interpretation in music and scripture. I’ve thought a lot about the ways in which communities use texts to define themselves, whether it’s Christians and the Bible, or musicologists and the cannon of Western art music and musicological texts. I’ve mused a bit about thinking of musicology as a religion in its own right. It possesses holy texts, normative prescriptions for behavior (see: “authentic performance practice” pre-Taruskin), and even metaphysical systems! Aesthetics is the theology of musicology, and it often delves into just as much metaphysical speculation. The sort of commentary that takes place on musical texts is almost Talmudic in nature. Decades and sometimes century of commentary on various musical texts begins to form objects that are awe-worthy in their own right.
I suppose all of this is to say that I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter if I “buy it”. It matters if other people do. It matters what making the argument means in the first place, regardless of how well the argument holds up to scrutiny. I’ve realized that, like in my study of religion, my study in music is not a neat and tidy quest for truth. Rather, it’s an exercise in empathy and critical thinking. What I’ve realized I’m most interested in is why and how people listen to music, and what I can learn from that. The reading that’s stuck with me the most has been the Sorce Keller reading from the beginning of the semester. Remembering that I necessarily misinterpret just about everything is important for my ability to take certain kinds of arguments seriously. I have become more comfortable knowing that there is no “absolute truth”, only useful misunderstandings. I’m just thankful those misunderstandings are interesting.