Cognition and the Body: Perspectives from Music Education

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


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.


Bodily Basis Bodily Experience Musical Experience Music Education Auditory Imagery 
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    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
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    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
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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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    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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    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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    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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    Like water to a fish.Google Scholar
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    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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    “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

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2004

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