Music as an Aesthetic Experience - Sample Essay

The introduction of Donald J. Funes’ book Musical Involvement addresses the topic of music as an aesthetic experience. The preface to the introduction is the realization that truly listening to music requires an active response, and this type of listening is not innate. All throughout the day we are bombarded with music and every day sounds, most of which remain in our periphery. It can be difficult to focus on a single event such as a concert, lecture or any other situation that requires a quite environment because we can attend to around seven sensory inputs at any one time, including our internal conversations.

Suddenly our periphery senses can become distracting to the point where they detract from the single auditory source we are trying to focus on. Actively listening requires the listener to minimize the external an internal distractions so that the important details of the work are heard. Funes notes that this is a highly rewarding way of listening but it is not the only way interacting with music. Musical Involvement is a guide to learning how to actively listen to music to achieve an aesthetic experience.

Funes argues that in order to have an aesthetic experience with music, then first it is necessary to perceive music as an aesthetic object which is only possible if an aesthetic attitude is adopted. There are several components to having an aesthetic attitude. The first is the realization that preconditioned responses limit experiences. Meaning, your attitude influences your perception. A negative attitude can prevent anyone from enjoying an experience. Learning to view a situation from other perspectives can improve control over mindset therefore expanding the possibilities of responses to experiences.

Since a negative attitude is a contradiction to adopting an aesthetic attitude, all aesthetic listening is positive. To adopt an aesthetic attitude it is not necessary to develop a personal theory on aesthetics; it is only necessary to understand that it is possible to interact with music and sound aesthetically. The difficult part of listening to music as an aesthetic object is being distant from the music. To set aside any preconceived notions or associations about the work so that it may be enjoyed only for impractical reasons.

Looking at something as an aesthetic object goes against any ideas of practicalities because it is highly improbably to enjoy something purely for itself if it is looked at with the potential of something else in mind. Another condition to the aesthetic attitude is adopting a sympathetic awareness, a willingness to experience all types of music because no style is superior to another. In the chapter on “Perception” in Lewis Rowell’s Thinking about Music, he discusses traditional problems of aesthetics for the listener.

Although Rowell and Funes discuss similar ideas about aesthetic listening, the purpose of Rowell’s work is not to teach the listener how they should listen to music. Similar to an argument Funes makes, Rowell comments that even though some authors feel that there is an ideal way to listen, it is a good idea to understand that there is a range of possible listening experiences. The first problem Rowell discusses are the varying modes of perception. He sets the scene for exploring the listening experience with asking the question “What am I doing”.

This question involves several other component questions that basically range around the listeners background in understanding music and how that might affect their experience. These questions only seem applicable to an experienced music listener who has some academic understanding of music. Later he discusses the idea of perception being a problem to discuss specifically because of the range of ways people listen to music. Rowell does discuss some modes of perception that can negatively affect the listener’s experience and that just being simply conscious of these distractions can completely change the experience.

Like Funes, Rowell discusses the idea of being detached from the music to achieve a more aesthetic experience. First he cites Kant’s definition of taste to discuss valid rules of judgment for all observers. Consequently, Kant determines it is necessary for all observers to look from an objective view. Rowell is not concerned at this point whether Kant is correct in his assessment of taste but instead he is only concerned that the listener detach themselves from the work for a more objective viewpoint. Although the idea of being “distant” from a work is sometimes ambiguous it can be interpreted at least three ways.

The first as a literal distance, the second as a dimensional distance, and lastly the most important being a “psychic distance” in the form of emotional detachment. Like Funes, Rowell states the listener diminishes the possibilities of achieving an aesthetic experience when attention becomes focused on discovering the purpose of art. Finally, Rowell argues against a stance that various other authors have taking, the concept that the ideal musical experience is a total detachment from all contexts.

Instead Rowell argues that although the ideal musical experience preserves a degree of distance by regarding all experiences as individual, it is necessary to have a sense of awareness about the style and performance of the work. Malcolm Budd begins “The Repudiation of Emotion”, the second chapter in Music and Emotion with a sizable disclaimer stating that although he is adopting the viewpoint of the listener it does not take any priority over the composer or executants viewpoint. For his purposes, Budd is only concerned with the listener who has achieve an aesthetic experience.

The disclaimer continues to state that the purpose of compositions are not universally for active participation of the listener. Although, some music is intended to be incidental, the listener still has the capability of seeking an aesthetic experience with it and therefore all music is subject to the contents of the chapter. The purpose of this chapter is to discover the aesthetically significant relationship between music and emotions to explain why the listener has an aesthetic response. First Budd explains the irrelevance of the composers and the performers emotions when creating or performing a work.

Although there may have been some emotional background for the creation or performance it does not mean the same emotion is audibly being transmitted to the listener. Therefore the only important instance of emotion is the emotion the listener experiences but the crucial question is whether the listener is has achieved this emotion from the quality (or intention) of the music. Budd establishes the only known negative response to this question is Eduard Hanslick’s book The Beautiful in Music.