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    Help me find broad-audience resources on how music shapes our experience of time.

    Hello all,

    I'm planning a first-year experience course and thinking about organizing it around how music shapes how we experience time. The course needs to be designed for non-music majors, though they will be in the honors program. Does anyone have resources to suggest? I'm thinking about Elizabeth Margulis's book On Repeat, Lewis Rowell's "New Temporal Horizons" from Music In the Mirror, Steve Reich's writings about his own music, and some of Jonathan Kramer's work, but I would love other suggestions for readings. (I know Stockhausen has written on time in music, but is there anything accessible to first-year non-musicians?) In particular, I don't know of much that talks about how tonal music affects our experience of time through tension and release. I would also really appreciate any thoughts on multimedia resources I might use, including pieces of music.

    Thank you!


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    • 8 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • Tim, you asked in particular for tonal pieces, and for multi-media resources. I recommend the first x minutes of Anne Hyland's recent SMA video "Analysing Musical Time" (http://www.sma.ac.uk/videos/episode-3), which offers a general introduction, an example from a familiar Beethoven work, then digs in deeper with Schubert's D. 887 (the same subject as her recent Spectrum article). The value of x is proportional to your students' degree of technical understanding of music.

      Good luck with the course -- sounds fun!


    • Hi Tim,

      Perhaps you might also consider Bob Snyder's book "Music and Memory." It was written with a somewhat similar goal. David Huron's "Sweet Anticipation" might also be worth considering.  And of course, Justin London's "Hearing in Time" seems related, at least somewhat.  Dan Levitin and Oliver Sacks might also be appropriate, not sure. Have fun!

      Trevor de Clercq, MTSU

    • What a wonderful topic!

      I would say that Monelle's concepts of progressive and lyric time are accessible to a broad audience (The Sense of Music, Chapter 4). Sections from Berger's Bach's Cycle, Mozart's Arrow would be more challenging but also feasible, and Messiaen chapter on time from his Traité  might work well.

      As reference material, Kristina Knowles's recent dissertation "The Boundaries of Meter and the Subjective Experience of Time in Music of the Mid-Twentieth Century," includes a useful discussion of the psychological literature that informs the musical experience of time passing.

    • Christopher Lewis had a nice submission in the Krebs/Kinderman "Second Practice" collection titled "The Mind's Chronology: Narrative Times and Harmonic Disruption in Postromantic Music." It sounds like it might be pretty close to what you're looking for, but obviously non-music majors may need to skim some of the examples.

    • Jonathan Bernard. 'Elliott Carter and the Modern Meaning of Time' (MQ 79:4). Bernard nails it. Relates musical time perceptions to other developments in perception of time outside music that influenced Carter (and arguably all composers - but he wisely doesn't go there, of course).

    • I would also add readings from:

      The Physicist and the Philospher: Einstein, Bergson, and the debate that changed our understanding of time. Jimena Canales. Princeton University Press c2015.

      Q: Why/how/when did our concept of time in music radically change in C20???

      The Einstein-Bergson debate, which today is mostly forgotten, took place very publicly in the 1920s (and beyond) between two intellectual giants and, while no one I know of has yet written about it's effects in the arts, certainly artists, especially composers (artists of time), followed this debate avidly. Special relativity is all about time and challenges our common sense notions of time. Schoenberg & Stravinsky surely knew about the debate. (Schoenberg made specific reference comparing his new experiments in techne to Einstein's work.) This was when time became a 'thing', but the connection has yet to be made adequately in music - a nice challenge for your students.

    • Thanks all for your suggestions! (Which is not to say I won't welcome others.)

    • 2 books come to mind. Art & Physics by Leonard Shlain might have something interesting to contribute (which leads back to Stephen's comment above about Einstein). Also Audio Culture, edited by Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner is a wonderful collection of short essays and readings exploring music, recording, culture, and perception in the twentieth-century. Some excerpts from it about minimalism or ambient music in particular might be a wonderful way to explore different metaphors used to conceive of time and music's place in it (narrative vs. cyclical, or, in George Rochberg's case, radial!).