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Cognition and the Body: Perspectives from Music Education

  • Wayne Bowman
Part of the Landscapes: the Arts, Aesthetics, and Education book series (LAAE, volume 3)

Abstract

Appeals to multiple-intelligence theory have become common currency among educators in the arts, apparently because status as “an intelligence” is seen as vindication of the educational integrity of artistic undertakings. Unfortunately, ascendancy to the status of intelligence has not been accompanied by careful examination of what intelligence means. We have become assertive about its plurality, to be sure. But “it” remains more or less the kind of cognitive construct it always has been: abstract, mental, cerebral, disembodied. After years of unsuccessful urging that music’s alignment with feeling made it an essential corrective to such one-sided cognitive activity, we appear to have decided in recent years that there is more strategic clout to be found on the rational side of the cognitive/emotional divide. What we have not done, precisely, is to question the nature of the divide itself: this stubborn dichotomy between knowing that counts and that which does not, in light of which musical and artistic endeavors invariably come up short. In this essay, I explore from the perspective of musical experience what cognition means—of what intelligence that is musical consists on the assumption that there can be no genuine progress in our efforts to explain and justify the contributions of artistic endeavors to education until the meanings of things like intelligence and cognition are reconstructed.

Keywords

Bodily Basis Bodily Experience Musical Experience Music Education Auditory Imagery 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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NOTES

  1. I use intelligence and cognition more or less interchangeably here. Since intelligence is a manifestation of exceptional cognitive capacity, problems attending the latter attend the former as well. This essay will focus more on cognition than intelligence, however.Google Scholar
  2. This binary hierarchical opposition insinuates itself into our language and our thought processes at almost every turn. Not only do its offspring distort our understanding of almost everything to which they are applied, they are, as feminist theories show, deeply implicated in the perpetuation of social inequalities of all kinds.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Here I allude to Wittgenstein, who suggests that logic’s “crystalline purity” is ill-suited to making our way in the messy, practical world. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical investigations, trans. G. E. M Anscombe (New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1976) §107 (p.46). •Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    This is an argument that has been advanced repeatedly over the years by Bennett Reimer. See, for instance, Reimer, B. (2003). A philosophy of.music education: Advancing the vision. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 93.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    This strategy is not entirely wrong-headed. In fact I will advance a variant of that claim myself Only, I will reject the desirability, indeed the possibility, of education that is purely cognitive in nature—in contrast to which, music must be doing something not-quite or not-really cognitive.Google Scholar
  6. This goes back to Langer, Schiller, and others. See also note 4, above.Google Scholar
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    Admittedly, there have been noteworthy historical efforts to stress the “non-discursive” nature of the knowledge music affords. Unfortunately, the definitions of discursiveness on which these were based were not very illuminating. Moreover, the representational, idealistic models of mind on which they have built draw distinctions between knower and known that more recent science and scholarship has shown to be mistaken.Google Scholar
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    Much of the literature on “critical thinking” in music confirms my assertions about the limited range of what counts, implicitly, as “thinking” among musicians and music educators.Google Scholar
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    “Knowing-in-action” unfortunately reduces, on this view, to “knowing-while-in-action”—an advance over “knowing inaction,” to be sure, but hardly the enactive, bodily-grounded, experiential knowledge to which we should be appealing.Google Scholar
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    Steven Feld puts it this way: “The significant feature of musical communication is . . . that its generality and multiplicity of possible messages and interpretations brings out a special kind of “feelingful” activity and engagement on the part of the listener, a form of pleasure that unites the material and mental dimensions of musical experience as fully embodied” (C. Keil and S. Feld, Music grooves [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 19941 91).Google Scholar
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    Phenomenological accounts of these facts abound, of course. In my book Philosophical perspectives on music (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) I explore phenomenological/experiential accounts of music in the sixth chapter. Many of the points made here in passing receive extensive elaboration in D. Burrows Sound, speech, and music (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990).Google Scholar
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    John Shepherd and Peter Wicke, Music and cultural theory (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1997). Among Shepherd’s and Wicke’s points are that this “technology of articulation” represents a significant contrast to the arbitrary signifier-signified relationships generally held to constitute semiosis.Google Scholar
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    By no means do I mean to suggest that this is a uniquely human capacity. In fact, its continuity with other forms of life is precisely among the strengths of this approach.Google Scholar
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    As a trombonist, for instance, I can aurally identify notes produced on trombone with considerable accuracy, but that ability does not transfer to pitches generated on other instruments.Google Scholar
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    I use quotation marks here because the view I am sketching clearly discounts the possibility of a musically-pure realm.Google Scholar
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    Here I would urge, with Thomas Regelski and others, that we attempt to recover the original sense of “amateur” engagements: actions motivated by love. Amateur perception and engagement is not simply a diluted or deficient version of the professional. Recognizing action and embodiment as musically-constitutive precludes ranking and sorting music in virtue of its corporeal qualities. If all music becomes musical in virtue of the presence of bodily engagement and action, we cannot segregate “ideal” music—music directed to the mind—from music with more conspicuously visceral appeal. The ideal and the bodily are differences in degree, not in kind or in value.Google Scholar
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    John Shepherd writes eloquently about timbre’s tactile essence in his Music as social text. Experientially, please note, timbre is not a function of pattern. Pattern is a structural thing—about abstract relations—whereas tone quality is an inextricably bodily affair—concrete and particular, here and now. Most of our accounts of music cognition seriously neglect quality, focusing instead on pattern and structure, and relegating the remainder to the unfortunately residual status of psychological “response.”Google Scholar
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    For me, at any rate, the experience of in-tune and out-of-tune is a dramatically corporeal event—never an idle or detached observation.Google Scholar
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    Thus, to Steven Feld’s diagram (Keil and Feld, Music grooves, 86) of the act of musical communication, which features a reflexive interaction between a dialectically-constituted sound object and a listener’s “interpretive moves” on the other, I would suggest the addition of a specifically kinaesthetic dimension that conjoins object and action.Google Scholar
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    I am reminded of an assertion by Charles Rosen to the effect that in successful improvisation the fingers develop an independent logic, one not dependent upon mental ratification.Google Scholar
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    Judith Butler, Bodies that matter: On the discursive limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 1993).Google Scholar
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    Butler’s interest and focus lies primarily with discursive practices; to these I am obviously anxious to add musical actions and practices.Google Scholar
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    On this point, see Edward Casey, “The ghost of embodiment: Is the body a natural or a cultural entity?” in The incorporated self Interdisciplinary perspectives on embodiment, Michael O’DonovanAnderson, ed. (Lanham, Maryland: Rowan and Littlefield, 1996) 25. Casey invokes the phrase “ghostly” to describe this capacity to be both natural and cultural, yet neither: which should remind us of the long history of spirit/ghost metaphors associated with music.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Like water to a fish.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Among the points to which my previous remarks have alluded is that these differ in kind rather than degree: performing and listening are both skills, both active, both bodily, and both constructive.Google Scholar
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    Perhaps we might call this musical “body building”?Google Scholar
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    Edward Casey, The ghost of embodiment” 31.Google Scholar
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    “Talent and identity” in Orbit 31:1, 2000 (39). The brief quote is excerpted from a more extended discussion entitled “Thoughts on shaping talent and identity” by L. Bartel, J. Bellous, W. Bowman, and K. Peglar, in Orbit, 31(1) 2000 on-line edition (OISE, University of Toronto).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2004

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  • Wayne Bowman

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