Music’s Address | Peter J. Leithart | First Things

“Music,” writes Roger Scruton (Soul of the World, 175) “addresses us from beyond the borders of the natural world” and thus “requires us to respond to a subjectivity that lies beyond the world of objects, in a space of its own.” It’s one of the intimations of a world outside the natural world describable by science.

But music is made of sounds, and sounds are vibrations, physical events. Scruton of course knows this, but his point is that there is something more to hearing music than there is to hearing sounds. Music is irreducible to the sounds that make it up.

Music addresses us, and invites us to “sympathy” – to “move with” the music (163). Scruton elaborates, “When you do dance to music, you understand the music as the source of the movement that flows through you. You are moving in sympathy with another intentional being, another source of life. Yet the thing you are dancing with is not alive, even if it is produced by someone alive. The life in the music is there by virtue of the fact that you can dance with it. The life in the music is the power to elicit a parallel live in you, the dancer. To put it another way: the life in the music is an imagined life, and the dance one way of imagining it. . . . You don’t listen with a piece of music; you listen to it. But the ‘withness’ of the dance is reproduced in listening. In some way you move with the music as you listen to it, and this movement is, or involves, a movement of sympathy. Listening is not the same as dancing: but it is more like dancing than it is like hearing” (165).

via Music’s Address | Peter J. Leithart | First Things.

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