PhD University of NSW in progress (2005) Pages:

Music and spirituality: Locating spirituality within paradigms of musical meaning

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Other Links: Online survey "Significant Experiences in Music" | |


[Summary provided Dec 2007] The notion that music can be spiritual, a notion evident not only in contemporary culture but also in recent scientific research, needs clarification. One of the questions that arises is, which type of musical meaning is in question when one speaks of musical spirituality? This paper presents research which aims to answer that question with reference to the taxonomy of musical meaning found in the work of Leonard Meyer (1956). A questionnaire was devised and 117 participants completed it, describing and then answering specific questions about two contrasting, significant experiences of music. Results indicated that referential meaning (extra-musical meaning that arises from the external associations that music is inclined to possess) was shown to account for spirituality only partially. Cognitive associations were strong, but qualitative data indicated that there was something more to the experience. Meyer¹s second category of musical meaning, absolutism (intra-musical meaning arising from the musical forms themselves), also demonstrated some relationship with spirituality, though again, including some disjunction. When absolutism was further examined in terms of formalism (an intellectual appreciation of the musical forms themselves, and thus the Œspirit¹ of the music) and expressionism (the emotional content arising from those same forms), it was clear that formalism received minimal support. Conversely, expressionism demonstrated a much stronger relationship with spirituality. This research examines implications for the study of music perception, including the suggestion that the recent scientific focus on emotion and music has passed over an arguably even more fundamental element to the human-music nexus; spirituality.

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