How difficult it is to conceptualize aesthetics

Dr Tsay’s research has run the globe.  Sadly, it doesn’t deliver anything new:  musicians have known her results for years; Charles Rosen writes about it in his Piano Notes (2002).

But Dr Tsay’s research is an interesting case of how good science can be polluted by poor interpretation:  her interpretation appears to be that “we don’t judge musical performance by the music and therefore no independent judgment of music is possible”, while she should have concluded that “any judgment of music is liable to become polluted by visual clues and therefore special care must be taken to exclude that possibility”.  To exclude just this possibility, early Chopin competitions were judged by judges sitting behind a curtain.  (To be entirely fair, competitions aren’t set up to judge music but to judge musical performance, which is why Chopin competition does not do the curtain trick anymore).

A more interesting research would be to try to separate those judges who can judge the music independently of the visual clues and those who cannot and see what other differences exist between them.  The former is a rare skill – normally a hallmark of inborn trait — a mutation, if you like — but is, at least to some extent, trainable.  Judging music, like judging paintings and all art, is like playing the piano:  some measure of talent and lots and lots of work.

Perhaps it is a related note to observe that I usually find myself closing my eyes during piano performances.  I seem to hear better when my visual cortex is not busy.

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