Understanding Musical Experience
What is the nature of musical experience? How are musical experiences connected to other parts of culture and society? These are the questions that ethnomusicology—the study of music in its cultural context—aims to address.
For more than 100 years, ethnomusicology scholars have been working in communities to understand the meaning of musical traditions for the people who make and listen to the music. The scholars’ work has been aimed at interpreting the meaning of the musical experiences of performers and audience members, but little research has been done on the nature of musical experience itself.
The branch of philosophy known as phenomenology explores just that topic: it tries to understand what it means to say that a person “has” an experience, and provides new ideas about the relationship between experience and other philosophical concepts.
As Canada Research Chair in Ethnomusicology, Dr. Harris Berger is drawing ground-breaking connections between ethnomusicology and phenomenology. His research is shedding new light on the nature of musical experience and using information from field studies to discover new ideas about the nature of music, the aesthetics of performance, and the political meaning of culture.
Berger and his research team are giving music scholars new tools for studying people and music, clarifying basic concepts in arts research, and opening the door to more effective studies of the political and cultural influences of music. Their research will help music scholars understand the people they work with and the role of music in society, and foster communication across cultural and social boundaries.