Narrative in Music

Sep 29, 2014

I once asked the composer Max Raimi what he thought of a certain other composer’s music.  He replied that her music had interesting sounds, and interesting textures, and interesting moments, but that it tended to lack three things that he considered very important: a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The great novelist Joseph Conrad once wrote that human beings have as great a need for narrative as for breath. And in fact our need for narrative is not restricted to the realm of literature. When we listen to a piece of music, the only reason we’re going to care about where we are, is if we have a sense of where we’ve been… and of where we’re going.  I suppose you could make the case that life itself is nothing but a series of moments, some related, some not. But even if that rather limited description is true for life, it’s not a recipe for compelling music. In music, moments, no matter how fascinating each one, are not enough. We need narrative: a shape, an arc, a story, a journey in sound that gives meaning to time.

A Minute with Miles - a production of ETV Radio made possible by the JM Smith Corporation.