Apart from the seventy (yes, seventy) degree temperature shock going from Los Angeles to Baltimore, I had a wonderful evening at the opening of the Music, Mind and Meaning conference at the Peabody Institute. The evening began with rousing introductions all around, and I was wonderfully honored to finally meet some of my favorite scholars face to face.
At 7pm, Dr. David Huron took the floor for the keynote address. In his talk, “Emotions and Meanings in Music, he posed the question, “In what ways can music convey meaning?” Songs have lyrics, works have evocative titles, but most of music’s meaning comes from other sources including:
- Cultural schemas
- Learned expectations
- Personal associations
In his over sixty minute presentation, Huron covered everything from how musical associations become universal cultural icons, to the psychoacoustics of intimacy (which contained brilliant perspectives I had never visualized), to an explicitly detailed account of how ethologists differentiate between signals versus cues, and what we can take from learning about hostile versus friendly behavior in animals to musical studies. Since my arrival, I’ve listened to one out of nine lectures, and am, at present, blown away. Let’s just say this: you know it’s good when you have world-class academics on either side murmuring in awe at what is being presented. I look very forward to recounting the full presentation when time permits.
Following Dr. Huron’s talk, a duo took the stage like I haven’t quite seen before. I’d venture it’s not uncommon, but when Grammy-nominated pianist and composer (and MacArthur genius fellowship recipient) Vijay Iyer improvises a single-song performance – for thirty-five minutes nonstop – one listens. Joined by Gary Thomas (Director of Jazz Studies, Peabody) on the saxophone followed by flute, the enigmatic chemistry that was created simply devoured the room like a thick trance. One of my favorite enigmas of the evening was simply glancing down the two rows of conference speakers to see who was bobbing side to side, or front to back; the eyes that were closed or engaged, or (my favorite) watching the woman who periodically plugged her ears as if to reimagine what she had just heard.
The evening closed with a reception lasting well past eleven in the Peabody library. Accompanied by a presentation of the exhibit from the personal collection of Eugene S. Flamm, the final talk included introducing some of the very oldest texts surrounding neurosurgery and the cradle of medicine known to exist. I look very forward to the continuance and development of the conference tomorrow morning.