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Pushing the Limits: Risk and Accomplishment
in Musical Performance

  David Clowney & Robert Rawlins

Using examples from musical performance of several kinds, we argue that risk-taking, showing off, virtuosity, and other forms of musical showmanship are in many cases, though not in all, an integral and appropriate part of the music as performed on that occasion.  We reflect on the difference between cases where this is so and cases where it is not, using insights from John Dewey’s aesthetics as articulated in Art as Experience.

Key Words
Dewey, music, musical accomplishment, philosophy of music, performance, risk


1. Introduction

Our subject in this paper is certain aspects of musical performance that might easily be thought to be part of the show but not part of the music.[1]  They include risk-taking, dramatic levels of accomplishment, and just plain showing off:  things that tend to draw attention to the performer and may serve as distractions from the music.  We argue that in many cases, though not in all, these elements are an integral and appropriate part of the music as performed.  We also reflect on the difference between cases where this is so, and cases where it is not.  Our intent is not so much to correct misunderstandings by any particular critics or philosophers about what should count as music or how music should be performed; it is rather to explore some dimensions of musical performance and experience that we think have not gotten much philosophical attention. 

Our approach has been significantly informed by John Dewey’s philosophy of the arts.  In particular, we share his conviction that art is the integrated and consummatory experience of the maker and of the receiver in relation to the art work, and that the “work” has its value and significance in the context of that experience rather than as some independently existing entity.[2]   Dewey’s intuitions have recently been supported by cognitive psychologists, neuroscientists and philosophers working on the perception of music.  Vincent Bergeron and Dominic McIver Lopes have collected some of these results, and have used them to argue that music is not only sonic but also visual, since the experience of live music combines auditory and visual input to create a single musical experience.[3]   We agree with their conclusion.  Our point overlaps but is not identical to theirs.  Some of the features of musical performance on which we’re focusing are sonic, some of them are not, but all tend to draw attention to the performer in some way.  Our method of argument involves the use of examples, as these we think are the primary data from which philosophers of music must work.

The role and prominence of performers in successful musical performances varies greatly.  At one extreme are the musicians in a symphony orchestra, visually and audibly anonymous members of a collective instrument through which the previously composed music is transmitted to the audience.  They cannot play this role well without being highly trained and highly skilled; only such performers can blend so well with others in a live, complex performance that they speak with one expressive musical voice.  The bar for admission to this elite group in any major orchestra is very high, and many of its members also have careers as solo performers.  But while a successful symphonic performance is a stunning collective accomplishment made possible only by the whole-hearted and sensitive contribution of all the performers and the conductor, it is usually not one that draws much attention to the individual orchestra members. So far as what the audience experiences, one might almost say that they are, in the words of the old gospel hymn, “channels only.” 

This thought fits nicely with the prevalent portrayal of music in much philosophical discussion, that of Western classical music heard by a quiet, attentive audience in a concert hall, paying attention to the sonic entity that the orchestra produces.  Non-sonic elements are still there, and are a key part of the experience of a live performance.  One can see the synchronized motion of performers playing in unison, see their responses to the conductor’s signals, see the center of activity change as the melody passes from strings to woodwinds or brass, see the level of energy change as vigorous passages follow languid ones.  Even in a sound recording of a live concert, one can hear sounds from the audience and echoes from the performance space, as well as unscripted silences that introduce and close a piece and separate its movements.[4] 

All of these features form part of a particular musical communication in a particular time and place in a way that is both auditory and visual.   We don’t think that the “limiting case” of a symphonic performance is an exception to our thesis in this paper, but it does present an example where the musically constitutive role of nonauditory or unscripted performance elements may be easier to ignore.  Conductors and soloists, of course, stand out much more prominently in symphonic performance, and among these there is a long tradition of virtuosic and eccentric on-stage personalities who certainly affect audience experience of the music. We’ll discuss some examples toward the end of the paper.

At the other extreme from symphony orchestra members are jazz, blues, rock, and all sorts of other popular music performers, who are generally expected to “put on a show.”  They often dress flamboyantly, and combine their playing and singing with dance moves, exuberant gestures, and other examples of showmanship, including light shows, stage productions, and other pieces of spectacle in their shows. The best of these performers often do seemingly impossible things with their instruments or their voices, take real or at least apparent musical risks, challenge each other in improvisational competitions, and just plain show off musically.

Audiences of such popular musical genres love to see a good show.  Critics may be inclined to dismiss these extravagances as at best an irrelevant addition to the actual music, if not a substitution of spectacle for musical substance (see Section 7 below for reactions like this from classical music critics).  Are the critics right?  We think that sometimes they are and sometimes they are not.

Like Dewey, we see music as a form of human communication, embodied and social.  The experience of making it and listening to it includes more than its formal sonic and auditory elements. In fact, even those elements may look different when the making and listening experience is taken into account.  For example, a performer’s gestures, expressions and changing degrees of animation often create a rhythm that becomes part of the experienced structure of the performed piece, interacting with its time signature and other sonic structural features in a variety of ways.[5]  When the classical violinist Hilary Hahn plays, for example, she almost dances with her instrument.  Her movements appear natural and not ostentatious, an integral part of her interpretation of the piece she is playing.  By means of them she clearly embodies its dynamic properties.  Here she is in an NPR “Tiny Desk Concert,” playing Bach and Charles Ives:


Many components combine in musical performance, and together they make up the music.  They include the personal presence of the performer and the performer’s accomplishment in bringing this music to life in this way for this audience.  We turn now to a series of examples of ways in which this happens.  Several of them involve the overcoming of obstacles by the performer, to the delight of the audience and often of the other performers.

2. Classical solo performance:  Isaac Stern

We begin with an accomplished performance from Western symphonic music, in which the “show-off” elements are not present.  A performer’s accomplishment is naturally expected to include skillful use of the instrument, sensitive phrasing, a match between content and manner of presentation and, in the case of a soloist, a clear personal interpretation of the piece he or she is presenting.  In this way the personal presence of the artist becomes part of each individual performance of the music.  This claim is not controversial. Even Stravinsky in The Poetics of Music and Hanslick in On the Musically Beautiful allow for it.[6]  An example that has remained with one of the authors for forty-five years is hearing Isaac Stern perform the Brahms violin concerto with the Detroit Symphony.  Stern matched Stravinsky’s standard; he was a faithful transmitter of Brahms’s music and did not intrude on it.  And yet it did not at all seem to me (David) that Stern was a “channel only.”  I remember a physically imposing, magisterial presence teaching us with quiet passion that life is like this.  That at least is how the performance felt to me.  I am not making any claims here about the specific content of this communication; I’m content to say that it was musical and an instance of the Brahms concerto.  But the sense of deep significance for me was strong, conveyed by the personal presence of Isaac Stern and his total engagement with the music he was making.

The skill of a soloist of Stern’s stature is indeed awesome. He provides a good example of the way that the live presence of a quiet and non-flamboyant performer still becomes part of the performed music.  There are many contemporary instrumental and vocal soloists in the classical tradition about whom similar things can be said.  In such cases, the performance may appear to be easy and natural, and some of the sense of astonishment may be reserved to those who play the instrument and know how hard it is to do what the soloist appears to do so effortlessly. Nevertheless, the music as experienced by the performer and the audience integrally includes what the performer does in presenting it.  

3. “Holy smokes, that’s impossible!” Rahsaan Roland Kirk

Sometimes a performer appears to push well past the limits of possibility. Here is Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s  “Primitive Ohio,” recorded in 1969 in a British TV studio before a live audience:


Why play three horns at once and all those other instruments, rather than having three horn-players, not to mention the circular breathing that is required!  One can play complicated music more cleanly if just one horn is played, as anyone who has listened to Kirk knows he can do brilliantly, and as he does at one point in this performance.  So why do it this way?  Kirk’s answer was that his way of playing came to him in a dream, which he pursued and found.  (The title of the new documentary about him is The Case of the Three Sided Dream).  It is integral to his musical vision.  From the audience point of view, other answers also seem relevant: 1) It’s a jaw-dropping performance.  The audience loves it and identifies empathetically.  We love seeing people overcome limits.  2) The performance is musically appropriate in other ways, distinguishing mere showing off from unusual, exciting accomplishment. Kirk wants to get back to basics, to convey the unity of musical experience from the caves to the present, from tribal Africa to African America, hence the title “Primitive Ohio.”  That theme runs through most of his music; it is part of who he is and what he offers as a musician. The rough sound and makeshift character of his set-up does this better than the alternative.  So does the circular breathing, a regular part of the most ancient music we know of that’s still alive today, that of the Australian Aboriginal didgeridoo.

4. “Cutting heads,” playing off of each other, egging each other on to “top this” or “repeat this”

Performed music is a social event that sometimes involves a kind of friendly competition between performers, especially when the music is improvised.  Here is Ella Fitzgerald trading fours with Booty Wood, a member of the Count Basie band (pay special attention to the passage from 6.54 to 8.40):


“Trading fours” (where players alternate taking four-measure solos) is a common practice in jazz improvisation, and frequently the occasion for musical competition between the players who are trading off.  When such one-upmanship is foregrounded, whether they are trading fours or not, the players are said to be “cutting heads.”  As Ella and Booty try to meet each other’s musical challenges, they are definitely having a party, and the audience loves it.  You can’t separate the party from the music; it’s all one experience!  

What makes “cutting heads” so much fun for the performers and for the audience?  Part of it is simply that human beings love to perform, to compete, and to watch risky displays of skill.  We love the sense of mastery when we can display such skills ourselves, and we vicariously enjoy the astonishing performance of others.  The death-defying motorcycle jumps of Evel Knievel, fancy skate-board tricks, and any sort of improvisation are obvious examples.  When such displays of skill are part of competitions, they are even more exciting.  The performance of improvised music usually involves such displays, and the risks are often described in terms of physical danger (one might “crash and burn,” have a “train wreck,” or “fall flat”). 

To accept the challenge thrown at you is to take a risk, even for performers as skilled as Ella Fitzgerald and the Count Basie Orchestra.  You can see them grinning, shrugging, or giggling when they really pull it off, or when they don’t quite manage to copy a phrase.  The grins and laughter are infectious and draw the audience in, but, as the previous examples demonstrate, the musicality of the competition remains central.  There can be plenty of clowning around, but through it all the rhythms, the cadences, and the melodic and harmonic flow of the music must move forward in a satisfying way.  When that happens, the gestures, facial expressions and movements of the musicians help to form and punctuate the music and become an integral part of that particular musical experience.  

Perhaps one might say that in contexts like this the performers are indeed showing off, and yet they themselves are not the center of attention.  They are sharing a musical experience with each other and the audience:  the tones, timbres, rhythms, melodies, harmonies, and cadences, tensions and resolutions, and all the rest.   Notice also that the appearance of competition and challenge is central to the performance, and this too becomes part of the music.  There are more musically sophisticated examples of Ella trading fours with other jazz players, where she and the other players are less likely to copy each other and more likely to give surprising but musically related responses.  That doesn’t detract from the party atmosphere and the “co-opetition” of this example.

Here is another example, from a festival performance by Bela Flek and the Flektones.  Notice the pure joy in the passage from 3.30 to 5.30 in which harmonica player Howard Levy and bass player Victor Wooten trade off with each other (and shake hands at the end of their duel/duet) while the other band-members watch.  This is followed by a three-and-a-half minute improvised duet between Bela and guest fiddle player Casey Driessen:


Great improvisers point out in interviews that the element of risk in improvisatory performance is usually more controlled than it might seem.  Improvisers work against a background of musical training and within a musical language in which they are at home.  Public performance is not the place to try out brand new techniques that one has not yet mastered! Yet there is an unavoidable element of risk in any performance; one can’t control everything that happens. When the most skilled performer launches into an improvised solo, she doesn’t know how she’ll end it and she may get lost along the way.  This element is intensified in group improvisation of the sort Flek and Driessen and the rest of the Flektones are engaged in, where the music is not alive unless the contributions of the members are spontaneous and genuinely responsive to what they hear their band-mates playing.  We contend that some degree of such risk is integral to the experience of any live performance. The performers know it, and the audience expects and feels it.

Let us return for a moment to the point mentioned above, that apparent risk or difficulty can be as effective in performance as actual risk or difficulty.  What seems hard to an audience member can be relatively easy for a performer, and vice versa.  What matters here is the tension and amazement created in the audience, because it is this that can enhance the experience of the music.  Louis Armstrong was, at the beginning of his career, the man who could play faster, louder, higher and longer than anyone else.  (Of course this went along with his wonderful improvised solos, which shaped the development of jazz.)  He amazed his audiences, who enjoyed his music even more because what he was doing was so obviously difficult.  Armstrong pushed himself hard,  splitting his lip in 1935, which forced him to stop playing for several months.

As he aged, however, and as be-bop players like Dizzy Gillespie came along, Louis was no longer “The Greatest Trumpet Player in the World,” if that meant being able to play faster, louder, higher and longer than anyone else.  Instead of quitting, however, he improved his showmanship.  For example, he would build to a high note with a series of run-ups, each ending a little bit higher.  When he finally got to his goal, it may not have been as high as some of the notes Dizzy would play, but it sounded that way.  Here is Armstrong in a 1955 performance, playing “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” The build-up occurs at the end, from 4.00 on.


5. Stretching the limits of an instrument

Often the “Holy smokes!” factor comes from doing things with an instrument, or with your body in playing one, that no one thought was possible.  Performing on the diatonic harmonica is a great example.  It has a blow and a draw reed on each of its ten holes.  It has a range of three octaves and the diatonic scale is only complete in the middle octave.  Because of its chromatic limits, it is manufactured in all 12 keys.  Perhaps its German inventors thought of it as a poor man’s polka band; it is set up to play such tunes.  (Put your tongue on the mouth board, play the melody out of the right side of your mouth and the “oom-pahs” out of the left.) No one imagined that you could do what Howard Levy does with it.  He has learned to play three full chromatic octaves on the instrument and can cut heads with any jazz sax player.  His precise control of chording also allows him to play unexpected harmonies that fit many musical styles.  Here he is in concert with the Flektones in the Netherlands, riffing on “Round Midnight” and “Amazing Grace:”


[Here is another Levy solo, in some ways even more impressive, from a concert with the Lebanese oud player Rabih Abu Kahlil.  Notice the two changes of mood in Levy’s solo, around 1.36 and 2.44, when he finishes one melodic line out of one side of his mouth, while starting the other out of the other side of his mouth.]


Correction (July 21, 2015):  This clip is actually a splice of three pieces from the same concert, in which the editor has overlapped different Levy solos at the places noted in the text.  Those are not examples of his tongue-blocking technique.  The first few measures of the second movement of Levy’s "Concerto for Diatonic Harmonica and Orchestra" provide a great actual example of that technique by which he is indeed able to play different parts moving against each other out of different sides of his mouth.  You can find that movement from 27:46 to 33.34 in the following recording of Levy playing his concerto with the Lawrence Symphony: 


And here is the great trombonist Steve Turré (trombone is a hard enough instrument for jazz) playing conch shells.  Note the sequence at 3:40, where Turré plays 2 shells at the same time.   Also note how he moves his hand or his fingers in and out of the mouth of the shell to get different pitches in the way that a French horn player does.


These players' mastery and unusual instrumental techniques enhances the musical experience for audiences and less experienced listeners.  One can also see band members looking at the soloists with astonishment. The astonishment is genuine, but it also functions as a way to engage and focus audience excitement. Yet astonishing display is not the only purpose of these unusual techniques.  Levy and Turré and many others who make their instruments do strange things play what they want to hear.  Levy loves the sound of the diatonic harmonica.  He has worked for years to discover how to make it play all the black and white notes that his fingers can access on the piano, and to learn what chords he can produce on it in different contexts.  Turré learned to play the conch shell when he was playing with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, whom he credits as one of his major influences.  He loves the sound of the conch because he finds it haunting and because his Mexican ancestors played it.  To get a deeper feel for what Turré hears when he plays conchs, listen to this clip from his Sanctified Shells album on his website:


Not every unusual way of playing a musical instrument enhances the music played.  The internet is full of examples where doing the unusual is at best musically irrelevant, and at worst becomes a substitute for quality instead of contributing to it.  Here’s one by James Morrison, playing his trumpet upside down, that strikes us as just this sort of musically irrelevant showing off:


And here is another with two recorders doing something that is innocuous enough but not musically interesting, which in another context Rahsaan Roland Kirk might also do:


What’s the difference between these and the previous examples?  In the last two performances, there seems no sense of stretching for more music or of being musically inspired to an extravagant display (as might seem to be the case with some of the antics of bass players Vic Wooten of the Flektones or Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers).  It’s more a case of “look, Ma, no hands!”

6. Stretching the limits of the human body in playing an instrument

At least since the nineteenth century, stories have circulated about virtuoso musicians making pacts with the devil (Nicolo Paganini and the blues guitarist Robert Johnson are two frequently mentioned examples).  The premise of the stories is that no one could play like that without some supernatural intervention.  Call these examples of musical athleticism. Bobby McFerrin’s astonishing vocal  technique is a modern example, though to our knowledge no one has yet accused him of getting his remarkable abilities from the devil.

While the examples in this section overlap those in the last, here we emphasize not so much the limits of the instrument itself as we do the limits of human ability to play quickly and precisely and in other ways to exceed what anyone would expect.  Such athleticism can enhance the meaning or emotional impact of the piece.  Here is Bobby McFerrin’s emotionally charged rendition of “Round Midnight,” impressive because his voice is doing something one wouldn’t think it could (sound like a muted trumpet), and making it easy and beautiful so that it doesn’t seem like a trick but a gift from this performer.  That in itself can be moving and becomes part of that embodiment of the tune.


Another great example of vocal athleticism enhancing emotional content is the work of jazz vocalist Rachelle Ferrell.  Her emotional intensity is almost embarrassing it’s so potent:  physical and personal, with grunts, groans, growls and shrieks, all pitched across a huge range and sticking with the groove.  Here is her 1992 version of “Don’t Waste your Time.”  The vocal pyrotechnics are concentrated in the passage from about 5.00 to 7.06, but we recommend listening to the entire performance to hear and see how it all hangs together.


7. Self-imposed limits  

Sometimes musicians deliberately limit themselves to see what they can do within those limits.  The tune for Duke Ellington’s C-Jam blues has only two notes.  Sonny Rollins often repeats very simple figures, or even just one note, for a very long time, building tension while holding audience interest by rhythmic and other variations.  Daniel Levitin recounts hearing a solo at a 1977 concert at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, California,  in which Rollins played on the same pitch for three and a half minutes varying only the rhythm, timbre, and other features of the played tone, along with the use of momentary silences.[7]  

8. Sexy is as sexy does

Sensuality is sometimes ascribed to music (we believe correctly).  A musical performer might physically perform in a way that enhances and enriches this dimension of the music, or that detracts from it.  The sensual energy of Ferrell’s performance is a good example of such a merging between physical presentation and musical impact (notice that in her case, it’s not about what she’s wearing!)  By contrast, here is a photograph of the pianist Lola Astanova anticipating her 2012 benefit concert for the American Cancer Society at Carnegie Hall, an extravaganza involving Donald Trump, Julie Andrews, Vladimir Horowitz’s piano, and $850,000 worth of bling on loan to the performer from Tiffany’s, a sponsor of the event.


To the NY Times critic who reviewed the concert, Ms Astanova’s extravagant and romantic self-presentation seemed more flash than musical substance and the performance itself not passionate but mechanical.


Neither of us heard the concert, and Ms Astanova may have received a bad rap.  Classical music critics often have a hard time with flamboyant and scantily-clad performers, as evidenced by their reactions to the Chinese pianists Lang Lang and Yuja Wang.[8]  But the reviewers may also have been right.  Our point is that there are such cases, and when they occur, the presentation may subtract from musical substance rather than enhance it.

9. Just showing off, spontaneous exuberance  

Here Bob Crosby’s drummer uses the bass as a percussion instrument (from 1.40 to 2.26)


10. Conclusions

We have tried throughout this paper to distinguish cases where risk-taking, spectacular technique and achievement, sexiness, and showing off are integral and valuable parts of musical performance, from cases where these are not so.  In making the distinction, we may seem to be saying that the phenomena we’ve been describing are appropriate when they reinforce music that is itself worth listening to, and otherwise not.  Are we then depending on the very distinction we have set out to challenge, that between “the music itself” (i.e., the core sonic entity, identified by its pitches, harmonies, rhythms, cadences, and the like) and the way it is performed?  If so, that would undermine our claim that these features are actually part of the music that is performed. 

John Dewey is helpful here. He contends, on the one hand, that every art has its particular medium, appealing to a particular sense, and that it concentrates on communicating everything it can through that sense in an intensely focused way.[9]  In the case of music, what we’ve been calling the “sonic entity” is that central communication. Dewey qualifies his claim in a number of ways.  First, he points out (quite presciently, since much of the empirical evidence supporting the claim has been acquired only recently) that every sense implicitly includes the others, that normal human experience comes as a whole in which perception involves all the senses.[10]  He points out that the listener hears music as having spatial volume as well as loudness. We hear sounds in space, and experientially know the difference between a sound in an open space, in a large enclosed space, and in a small space.[11]  Bergeron and Lopes argue in the paper cited above that experimental evidence seems to indicate that in a live concert we see the music.  We experience music as having various qualities depending on what we see when it is performed.

Second, Dewey refuses to draw hard and fast lines between the different arts, or between art and non-art, precisely because each creation and each performance is unique, and artists are always exploring, developing, and opening new possibilities. 

Finally, Dewey’s most basic point about the arts, that they are embodied human communication, leads him to be inclusive rather than exclusive of the various elements that make up a musical performance, or any other kind of art work.  A work of art should exploit its medium to the utmost—bearing in mind that material is not medium except when used as an organ of expression.  “The abiding struggle of art is . . . to convert materials that are stammering or dumb in ordinary experience into eloquent media”.[12]

In short, where performance elements promote this goal in a way that makes for an integrated experience, it seems right to count them as part of the music.  When that happens, they will be well related to the sonic (or for songs, the sonic/verbal) center of the performed work.  Where they don’t contribute to the “eloquence” of the media, they are at best irrelevant and at worst distractions or cheap substitutes for musical substance.

We contend, then, that all these forms of musical accomplishment and display are legitimate parts of the music, itself, and can enhance it.  This claim may seem implausible when we think of the music as an entity in itself, as the work separated from its performance, as a kind of abstraction.  When music is seen as embodied human communication, we think it makes sense.  We enjoy some of these features (e.g., competitions, athleticism, and successful risk-taking) for many of the same reasons that we enjoy them in other, non-musical contexts.  When successfully integrated with the central elements of melody, harmony, rhythm, and sung words, they merge with those elements in the total musical experience.  When an otherwise meaningful and valued communication (like a piece of music or a poem) is presented in an especially skillful or surprising way, its meaning can be intensified and enhanced.  Pushing the limits can increase the intensity of the musical performance, and thereby increase its value.

David Clowney

David Clowney is Professor of Philosophy at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, where he teaches aesthetics and environmental ethics.  He also plays the diatonic harmonica, though not nearly so well as Howard Levy!

Robert Rawlins

Robert Rawlins is Professor of Music at Rowan University, where he teaches classical and jazz theory.  He plays clarinet, alto sax, and flute, and has played jazz professionally in a wide variety of venues and contexts for most of his career.

Published June 2, 2014.

The authors thank William Day, Cynthia Grund, Jennifer Judkins, Tiger Roholt, Bill Westney, and an anonymous Contemporary Aesthetics reviewer for helpful comments and discussions about the subject of this paper over the course of its development.  Thanks also to members of the Rowan Music Department for contribution of more and stranger examples of musical performance than we could possibly include, and to Jennifer Judkins, once again, for discussion (with examples) of the attitude of classical music critics toward showmanship and display.  Special thanks to Dorthaan Kirk for reviewing our comments about her late husband Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and for emphasizing the importance in his work of his defining “three-sided dream.”


[1] It is possible to produce music without performing it; for some reflections on doing this see remarks by Joel Zimmerman (the DJ Deadmou5), “we all just hit play,” available at http://deadmau5.tumblr.com/post/25690507284/we-all-hit-play (Accessed June 7, 2013)).  Individuals or groups may also make music without presenting or intending to present it to an audience.  For our purposes we won’t consider these as instances of musical performance, though of course they may resemble performance in many important ways.  For example, notice the importance Deadmau5 puts on the audience experience.

[2] John Dewey, Art as Experience (New York:  Penguin Perigree, 2005 (1934)).  Dewey shaped his discussion in terms of maker, work, and receiver.  But his use of the term ‘work’ is colored by his philosophy:  he uses it to refer to an experience.  For him, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is an art product, but it can’t be called a work except as it is experienced.  No doubt Beethoven experienced the Fifth as he composed it; for us, the experience comes as we perceive it, i.e., as it is performed (op. cit., pp. 168-69).  So there is no need to stretch Dewey’s account to cover improvisations, cases in which by other definitions of a “work,” e.g., that offered by Lydia Goehr in The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1992), it might be thought that there is no “work,” although the music is performed.

[3] Vincent Bergeron and Dominic McIver Lopes, “Hearing and Seeing Musical Expression,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 78.1 (2009), 1-16.

[4] For helpful reflection on such silences, see Jennifer Judkins, “Silence, Sound, Noise and Music,” in Gracyk and Kania, eds., The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Music (London and New York:  Routledge, 2011), pp. 14-24.

[5] See Dewey, op. cit., pp. 168-173, esp. p. 173, for his discussion of rhythm of this sort.  See also Bergeron and Lopes, op. cit., for a summary of psychological research that supports this conclusion.

[6] Igor Stravinsky, Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons (Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 1970 (1942)), pp.127-29; Eduard Hanslick, On the Musically Beautiful trans. Geoffrey Payzant (Indianapolis, IN:  Hackett, 1986 (1891)), pp. 48-50.

[7] Daniel Levitin, This is Your Brain on Music: the Science of a Human Obsession (New York:  Dutton, 2006), p. 55.  One of us heard a recording of this or a similar performance on the radio a couple of years ago but we’ve been unable to locate it.  If any reader knows where it can be found, please let us know!

[9] This claim needs to be qualified to deal with “mixed arts” such as film or song, that combine media.  Dewey does not say much about these.  The qualification might be made by developing his claim that the various arts “exploit the energy that is characteristic of the material used as a medium” (op.cit., p. 235).  If the material is mixed, then the energies of the mixture are those that need to be developed.  But that is a topic for another occasion.

[10] Dewey, op. cit., p. 226.

[11] Op. cit., p. 218.

[12] Op. cit., p. 237.