Performance as Conversation: Dialogic Aspects of Music Performance and Study

Although much of the classical music repertory is centuries old, musicians and musicologists participate in ongoing and lively conversations about the works. New insights on old works increasingly surface thanks to technological innovations: from data-rich digital humanities projects to casual online forums where media and text can be posted and discussed. The study and performance of a musical work--even more so than text-based disciplines--should be informed by a variety of sources in a wide array of formats. As the interplay between audience and performer becomes increasingly dynamic and the potential sources for study multiply, librarians can help students negotiate this sustained, multi-format discourse. Unlike other disciplines in which there may be an uncontested answer, a musical work is subject to interpretation in unique ways. “Scholarship as Conversation” provides a framework with which musicians might begin to navigate the many considerations of how to perform or understand a piece. In order to fully appreciate the lifecycle of the work, for example, once must synthesize a variety of contemporary and historical recordings, scholarly, manuscript, and performing scores, composer biography, and other contextual information. Academic librarians must partner with music faculty to offer instruction that specifically targets and assesses student understanding of the dialogic nature of music performance and study. By helping musicians understand the many voices engaged in this dialogue, such collaborations could make a meaningful impact on the musician’s stock-in-trade: her performance.
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