Musica Practica

Roland Barthes’ 1970 essay, “Musica Practica”, lays out two types of music: the music one listens to and the music one plays. There is particular emphasis on the music one plays, the “musica practica”. As Barthes explains, “[i]t is the music which you or I can play, alone or among friends, with no other audience than its participants (that is, with all risk of theatre, all temptation of hysteria removed)”. What happened was that music was urged away from this doing and into passive reception. A musician now, what Barthes calls a technician, “relieves the listener of all activity, even by procuration, and abolishes in the sphere of music the very notion of doing”.

In a recent interview of Creative Live’s 30 Days of Genius series, Seth Godin refers to a friend who was a part of the Peace Corps. This friend also went to college. Godin mentions how his friend could tell him all about his experience in the Peace Corps. Of his college courses? Little to no recollection. One of the things which Godin attributed to this was that a genuine and lasting education is an experience. It is something that you do. It is not something that is done to you.

What does this discussion of breaking the barrier between audience and performer mean?

It could very well be to transform the musical experience into “musica practica”. If we all become enactors of music, music becomes something we all do. To restore “the very notion of doing” is to erase the idea that music is done to us. Maybe this shift could lead to the same long term impact that Godin’s friend had with the Peace Corps.

Music should be something that we all do, not something that is done to us. To prod and explore further means to understand and make this a reality, on any scale, seems like important work.


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