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Response to Eva Alerby and Cecilia Ferm, "Learning Music: Embodied Experience in the Life-World"

From: Philosophy of Music Education Review
Volume 13, Number 2, Fall 2005
pp. 206-207 | 10.1353/pme.2005.0033

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Response to Eva Alerby and Cecilia Ferm, “Learning Music: Embodied Experience in the Life-World”

The authors' choice of using phenomenology as a foundation of their inquiry is appropriate and appealing. They have, to a great extent, achieved their goal to explain music learning from a life-world approach. Descriptions of absolute musicality and relativistic musicality in the opening paragraphs remind me of the good old "nature versus nurture" argument. Do the authors intend to relate musicality to musical ability or aptitude as defined by psychologists? If musicality is "the ability to make something of one's own," does it mean that the authors have taken on a relativistic view and believe that musicality can be acquired?

At the onset of the essay, musicality is described as emotional or cognitive phenomena. I would be interested to know what role a psychomotor phenomenon plays in musicality. The authors later describe "motor knowledge" in the context of Merleau-Ponty's "maximum grip." Does it mean that "motor knowledge" or "maximum grip" in music is outside the realm of musicality?

I have attempted to follow the authors' logic in answering the question: What is learning of music? The authors postulate that "knowledge does not always, and not in any way automatically, become exactly the same as the learning situation aimed for" and that "the aim of music education is to produce music knowledge." These propositions lead me to believe that the learning of music occurs in experiencing all types of musical activities, regardless of the musician's level of proficiency. In all types of musical activities, including different performances of the same repertoire by the same performer, the musician would find new knowledge that is being produced in his/her body. Therefore, I agree with the authors in that "bodily experience is the foundation for learning."

I would like to respond to the issue of whether music learning occurs within [End Page 206] or outside of the human being. I enjoy reading how the authors borrow Merleau-Ponty's analogy of the blind man and his stick. They put it so beautifully that "the piano becomes an extension of the pianist's body, and the pianist can 'feel' its limitation." This leads me to ponder if there could be further extensions beyond the physical piano. We know that pianists make the strings in the piano vibrate through a lever mechanism. These vibrations travel through the air and arrive at the audience's ears. Then the vibrating energies are transmitted as electrical energies in the audience's nerve cells. The audience in turn may behave differently after such a complex transmission of energies at a performance. My question is: Is there an end to the "extension" of a musician's body? If so, where should it end? There is no doubt that the pianist relates to the world and learns about the world through the piano. Could the pianist learn about the world through the vibrations that the piano strings generate, through the air, and through the audience's hearing mechanism, brain cells, and behaviors? Is this what the authors meant by "the human ego is boundaryless and cannot be localized, and the ego is immanent in the whole system"? Regardless of how far the "extension" goes, how do we know if an "extension" has occurred? How can we validate an "extension" of a musician's ego"?

It seems to me that the authors' discussions have focused on the tactile extension of the body. If the body can be extended like the stick for the blind man, would the air surrounding the blind man, including its smell, temperature, humidity, wind, and sound, be his extension too? When this question is transferred to a musician, would the total context of the musical event be the musician's extension of the body too? By "total context," I mean the cultural context, the environment (smell, temperature, . . .), and the people in the musical event.

We are certain that music learning takes place when experiences and knowledge are incorporated in the body. We still have not solved the problem of whether music learning occurs within or outside of the human being, because the boundary of the...