Living the Work: Meditations on a Lark

Journal of Aesthetic Education 45 (1):89-106 (2011)
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Abstract

It is widely assumed that there is a blanket norm requiring the performer to present the work “in the best light possible,” and that the performer “make the ends of the work his own” or “live the work” in performance. Through careful consideration of a particular performance, I suggest that this is an inadequate conception of a performer’s obligations. I argue that the form of identification between performer and work commonly propounded by philosophers, musicologists, music teachers, and performers alike is illuminated by what I take to be an exemplary metaphor deployed by Roger Scruton: the life in music. The problems with requiring a performer to identify with and affirm a work are made vivid by careful consideration of the requirements of “living the work,” or understanding the “life in tones.” I argue that this call for identification and affirmation ultimately denies the performer the capacity for critical interpretation and amounts either to a denial of modernity or to a desire to step behind it.

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Jonathan A. Neufeld
College of Charleston

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