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Musicking: The Verb that Wikipedia Forgot

Updated on March 6, 2008
The written notes are not God to Christopher Small.  (Photo by Paige Foster)
The written notes are not God to Christopher Small. (Photo by Paige Foster)

Musicologist Christopher Small asserted that "music" is not an event, rather it is an action in which everyone participates. So why does Wikipedia not have an article on "musicking," complete within the context of Small's book of the same name? The book has received plenty of attention in the United States, and the idea certainly merits a Wikipedia article.

So I'll do "musicking" one better and give it a HubPages hub instead. Take that, Wikipedia!

Why a Verb?

Small challenges the idea that The Composer is this almighty power whose ideas rule supreme, with the musicians and audience members merely bowing to his genius (the audience members being lesser than the musicians, of course, as the former are merely spectators).

Instead, he insists that every person and thing involved in a musical performance is musicking because -- and this is the controversial part -- they all have an impact on that performance.


While it might not make immediate sense to you why one audience member in an audience of thousands would have an impact on the overall musicking experience, Small is quite convincing.

Consider this: That one person has got to be standing next to someone else or have influenced another audience member to come. In fact, that one person helped finance (or, in the case of a free musicking experience, support) the music that much more. It's much like the ripple effect.

Small seeks to bring the musicking experience back to the people as a whole instead of placing all the power in the hands of (at a symphony performance) the conductor and ultimately the composer. He has spent much of his time studying the music of various tribes and clans across Africa and therefore has an understandable bias towards music that incorporates everyone, musicking as a social experience.

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Changing Perspectives

This theory must be true because since I have read about it, music in my life makes so much more sense. When walking by a saxophonist in Central Park or standing next to someone in an elevator whose headphones are on far too loud, I am influenced, whether I want to be or not. And by hearing the music, I am, in turn, influencing.

Musicking is a spectacular verb with which more people should be familiar. Because the book may not be worth reading for a completely nonmusical person, but a Wikipedia article would sure be worth taking a look at.


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    • profile image

      Anonymous 5 years ago

      Why not make the wikipedia page, then? That's how it works.

    • profile image

      Luke Annesley 6 years ago

      No problem with the concept, but I think 'musicking' is aesthetically problematic. It's an ugly word and is in the same category as words like 'impacting' ( as in 'having an impact on'). That k looks awful. I agree that 'music making' is a perfectly good phrase to use instead. The sharing of music takes place on various levels. Although community music making in traditional societies is qualitatively very different from a classical concert, there is such a thing as expertise in all musical traditions that I'm aware of. Conversely, not everyone attending a classical recital (for example) is a 'detached connosseur'. And of course the listeners are ALWAYS involved, but is this really a new idea?

    • profile image

      Emese Szanka 6 years ago

      Honestly, do you think a tribal ritual and their music making (as everyone takes part in the ritual even if not actually makign music) is equal to a listener of a symphonic orchestral performance?

      I do think music making is a good enough word.

    • profile image

      Hildegard Froehlich 7 years ago

      Great comments here about a very important (not so new anymore) term in anybody's vocabulary who teaches music...

    • Richard Harris profile image

      Richard Harris 7 years ago from Signal Hill, California

      Performing arts centers around the United States and beyond, in light of a long-term slide in attendance and increasingly disenchantment with the "citadel on the hill" orientation to the performance of "serious" concert music are seeking a new paradigm for the 21st Century. Christopher Small's life's work provides a philosophical foundation for this new paradigm.

      It is one that sees music as more than product or a "work", but one that engages everyone in the process of musicking--from unleashing the artist in everyone to presenting the finest in performance; from an orientation of "detached connoisseurship to one of engaged creativity. In other words promoting a creative citizenry with intimate connections to the community.

      The Los Angeles Music Center's Active Arts program is at the forefront in this new movement. See the Active Arts Website for further understanding of what it is to put Small's ideas into action and my blog, Signal Hill Voices, for one person's experience in the program

    • helenathegreat profile image

      helenathegreat 7 years ago from Manhattan

      Hi James, thanks for the comment. You're conflating music with paintings, though, and I don't think they're the same thing (and this is something that the concept of musicking helps distinguish). The painter is not making the painting in front of me, so my viewing of it really has nothing to do with the painting. But "musicking" means that every person is an active participant in a musical performance because it is happening ONLY in that moment.

      More importantly, musicking doesn't seek to define music. It seeks to define the experience of music that is particular to that art form. Comparing it to the definition of what a painting is misses the point.

    • profile image

      James 7 years ago

      I am not sure that I agree with the concept 'musicking'. It does not define music at all, and presupposes its existence. By saying that 'to music' is to come together to make music or to experience it in whatever way is the same as saying to a painting is difficult to define, so let's say that we rather all participate in painting when we look at a painting, sell it, talk about it; it does not define what a painting is.

    • profile image

      Lynette Yetter, author of the novel Lucy Plays Panpipes for Peace. 8 years ago

      I am a big fan of Christopher Small and his book, "Musicking." In fact, I quote him a number of times in my novel, Lucy Plays Panpipes for Peace. His concepts have also influenced my life. No longer do I perform as a soloist. I prefer to play panpipes in community with indigenous guys high in the Andes.

    • mroconnell profile image

      mroconnell 9 years ago from France

      Good advocacy!

    • helenathegreat profile image

      helenathegreat 9 years ago from Manhattan

      Excellently put, rmr. I hope other readers of this article will read your comment, too!

    • rmr profile image

      rmr 9 years ago from Livonia, MI

      Truer words were never spoken. As a musician, I can tell you that the notes on a page, especially in jazz, are more like guidelines. Open to interpretation, or outright improvisation. As to the audience, a good reaction can inspire a more creative and fulfilling interpretation. My improv is always better when the crowd is feeling it. Great hub!

    • helenathegreat profile image

      helenathegreat 10 years ago from Manhattan

      Peter -- Definitely! And this is a word that I use now all the time.

      helpdeskian -- It's not so much that we influence the musician; rather, we influence the experience of the musicking event. So, to use your example, if you walk by a guy playing a flute on the street, you've musicked because your presence meant that he had one more audience member. Whether his actual performance changed (playing extra well when someone was listening, for example) or not, you were still a part of the experience merely because you were there hearing it.

    • helpdeskian profile image

      helpdeskian 10 years ago from Pennsylvania

      I am still not seeing how we influence the musician . I can see how the music might influence us but I am not sure of the influence we would have on the musician.

      Like if you walk by a guy playing a flute on the street, how does your hearing influence him?

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image

      Peter M. Lopez 10 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      I'm always up for learning new words. Besides, I'd rather read a good hub than a widipedia article any day.