#57: The Sheet Music

What is music? It’s a question I am having to ask myself quite a lot at the moment, causing a few philosophical crises. I am in the process of putting the final touches to my BA Dissertation, 12,000 words on the use of music in English literature. So many questions on music, sound, and our response to it.

But today’s object is not music: it’s sheet music. What’s the difference? This is the written version, a smattering of dots and lines of a page, trying to tell us how to make a complex piece of interwoven sound. But it isn’t the music itself.

This sheet music is like the book in Eleanor’s blog post back in the very beginning of this blog. For Eleanor, a book is so much more than the physical entity of paper and ink: ‘All exist simply to take you somewhere beyond the object itself’. The important part is what is contained in the ink, in the symbols, and it’s the same for music.

Now I am not one those people who can pick up a piece of sheet music in a store, and hear it in their minds as they read it, like reading a book. I can sit there and work it out, sight-singing, but that normally ends up with me humming out loud to myself in the middle of the shop, which isn’t ideal.

So this object, for me, isn’t music itself, it is sheet music: it is the written idea to guide the musician in whatever form they decide to take it when they transform it into sound. I’ve changed a number of pieces of music, altering them to fit the choir I’m leading, making them sound better than the ideas on the page. Improvising over the suggested symbols, and moving the world of sound even further away from its origin.

Sheet music is also just pretty to look at in its own right, particularly older pieces, the kind you pick up in a charity shop and can imagine pasting on the wall like some kind of arty wallpaper. It’s a form of calligraphy, art, painting. I know I spent numerous hours trying to perfect my drawing of a treble clef, so different to any letter I have to write in my day-to-day handwriting.

As well as writing my dissertation on music, I’ve also being leading two choirs this academic year. As Easter holidays approach, I am facing the fact that I won’t be leading these choirs any more. I’m stepping down, to let new people take over the roles, to keep these societies going for next year when I graduate.

The fact that I may never lead a choir again is a pretty sad thought, and I’m getting nostalgic already. It’s been such a wonderful experience, leading a group of lovely, musical people, teaching them the notes on the page and transforming it into a mass of sound from multiple voices. This is why sheet music is dear to me, for the possibilities it holds in its inky symbols.


Katie writes a weekly blog post about random objects that she finds in her everyday life. If you’re interested in reading more of her thoughts, check out her blog Object, a collaboration with fellow Medium blogger Eleanor.
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