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I would like to open a discussion thread on musical gesture. I think the topic of musical gesture is a worthy one as we start up SMT Discuss, because of the breadth it offers in considering musical ideas in relation to performance and broader cultural considerations.
For me, a musical gesture involves embodied musical action. This distinguishes a musical gesture from a purely abstract musical thought, but this distinction is tricky, since gestures can be imagined. On the other hand, the actual physical movements of performance--like the vocalist’s breathing or a wrist movement in executing a piano phrasing-- those performative actions, of themselves, do not fully constitute a musical gesture. To my thinking, a musical gesture is the dynamic interplay of a musical idea, the embodied action of its performance, and the network of cultural associations it might evoke. In semiotic terms, it is part of the way music is indexed to the body. The literature on musical gesture is vast. Some writers whose work I have found especially helpful in considering musical gesture are Robert Hatten, David Lidov, Steve Larson, and Larry Zbikowski.
Now by some standards, musical gesture may not enjoy high status because it is so diverse and multifaceted. But on the other hand, consideration of musical gesture has been useful in transcending the bad old days when theory was maligned as formalist elitism. The diversity of all one might investigate under the rubric of gesture is part of its appeal.
There. That’s my post. I hope to hear responses from colleagues that enjoy thinking about music in terms of musical gesture.
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