What Do Beethoven and Books Have in Common?

Deaf BeethovenI am fascinated by the ability of music to communicate. In my music classroom, I can walk over to a piano, ask the children to guess what I am thinking of as I play the piano, and invariably, within 2 or 3 guesses, they will have figured out what I had in mind. Many times, I will ask one of them to volunteer to come to the piano and do the same thing, and it is amazing to hear them take physical realities or emotions and express them through sound alone.

The other day, I was thinking about the correlation between books and written music. Words on a page are merely abstract symbols that represent the spoken word, or aural communication. In the same manner, written music is a system of symbols on paper that represent aural sound. When a performer “reads” music, they recreate the composers intentions in a manner that can be heard by the audience.

The amazing thing about reading a book, is that the reader is allowed to get inside the author’s head, so to speak, and hear his thoughts. In a similar manner, a composer’s song allows the listener to get a glimpse of the composer’s ideas of beauty, emotions, and even his impression of physical realities.

The thought then struck me, that if Beethoven could compose music after becoming deaf, it must be possible for a musician to be able to read music like one would read a book, knowing what the music sounded like without ever hearing it performed. So, I asked a friend of mine, the best musician I know personally, if he could look at a score of music and “hear it” in his head. He said that he could.

I guess what I am wondering is, if there are people who read music for enjoyment, just like we would read a book for pleasure. Is this even a worthwhile goal? It certainly sounds like an amazing ability for a musician to have. Would this be the ultimate definition of musical literacy?

About Curtis Hollembeak

Psalm 118:14, "The Lord is my strength and song, and is become my salvation." Curtis currently lives in Rockford, IL with his wife and three children. Curtis works as church and school music director at the Berean Baptist Church. He has been a music educator and director for over 15 years.
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