Semantics of Music
Scholarship: Concepts True of All
Music is an unfinished two-volume monograph by the late Robert B. Cantrick
that identifies significant semantic imprecision current
in the language of music scholarship and proposes reform via
the "method of conceptual deduction," an innovative language approach
capable of giving a valid, coherent account of the entire world's music.
Philosophers of music and music theorists go their separate ways, sometimes
disdainfully, ignoring the fact that they occupy common semantic ground: they
both speak natural language. This
fact acquires remarkable significance in light of the widespread interest
in semantics of natural language on the part of scholars in a variety of
subject-fields. For as the field of semantics has generally advanced over
the last century, the semantics of music scholarship (philosophy, theory,
musicology, composition, aesthetics, and pedagogy) has not kept pace.
It is possible to identify semantic errors
widespread in the discourse of music scholarship that would be unacceptable in
the scholarly literature on semantics, notably 1) a profound error in
exemplification that renders generalizations about musical expression invalid,
and 2) a profound error in extensional identity that renders knowledge claims
about music incoherent. This semantic confusion has been unwittingly
compounded as music scholarship has, over the past several decades, moved
away from a Eurocentric perspective in attempting to define fundamental
concepts true of the entire world's music. Multi-culturalists and
alike perpetuate the problem, because they all employ the same imprecise mix
of technical and natural language. Clarity can be achieved only via a major
semantic reform: the method of conceptual deduction, which correlates logic
and semantics, synthesizing a precise language for music theorizing capable of
correcting old errors and opening up new perspectives. Semantic errors in
exemplification and extensional identity are demonstrated and dissected.
Technical terminology is drawn from a variety of disciplines but clearly
separated from those fields in order to create an analytical language unique to
music scholarship. The "meta-language" / "object-language" confusion —
widespread in the professional discourse — is disentangled. This thorough
reexamination of scholarly talk centers the persistent debate about music's
meaning on language about music rather than music itself, which has no
semantic content to debate.
Volume 1 — Formulating Concepts True of All Music — comprises
eight chapters of conceptual theory; Volume 2 — Teaching Concepts
True of All Music — develops curricular principles enabling
these concepts to be taught at any educational level.
The work is ambitious in scope and content and, at the time of Cantrick's death
in April of 2006, was nearing completion. Volume 2 was to have evolved from
Cantrick's own innovative teaching practice during his 17 years as a music
professor at Buffalo State College. A
contents for both volumes is
provided, along with Cantrick's last draft of his
"Preface and Introduction."
Another link leads to one of Cantrick's related articles, published in the
Journal of Aesthetics in 1995. This article —
"If the Semantics of Music Theorizing is Broke, Let's
— is an early summary of Cantrick's basic
and serves as an introduction to the later work. A list of
Cantrick's other scholarly articles is also linked.
Interested readers are invited to
contact us with comments as well as to obtain
more information and access to the complete work, which will also eventually
be accessible through the
E.H. Butler Library of Buffalo State College.