Semantics and Music        
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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.

Editor's Abstract

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 traditionalists 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 table of 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 British Journal of Aesthetics in 1995. This article — "If the Semantics of Music Theorizing is Broke, Let's Fix It" — is an early summary of Cantrick's basic idea 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.

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