Understanding Sound as a Language:
The Link Between Music and Narrative
a 2019 Barrett Honors Thesis by Alex Price
With this thesis, I have set out to answer two fundamental questions within music: does music mean anything, and should music mean anything? In answering those questions, I also set out to create a creative project that would implement these ideas: an original concept album of music that is programmatic in nature and incorporates motivic composition, jazz improvisation, lyrics, extra-musical audio and more all in the service of telling a narrative, a story, through music. I have done research into understanding music as a language, finding that this language is primarily communicative and recreational, rather than representational, of meaning. As well, I discuss the various different ways that music composers from Wagner to Williams have created narrative meaning in their works, using examples of leitmotif and other devices, as well as tracing the contextual associations of meaning that occurs when music is perceived in certain contexts. Furthermore, I discuss the dialogue between absolute and programmatic music, and also talk about the role of jazz improvisation in adding meaning to works.
For the second part of my thesis I talk about how I came to create the creative project aspect. I discuss how and why I designed the narrative that I did, and also analyzed the music I have created to illustrate how I implemented the various methods of musical storytelling that I detail in the first part of the paper. Lastly, I discuss my plans for publication and release of the creative project.
Overall, I found that music does have meaning, it is just meaning that society ascribes to it based off of artistic intent and context, and as to whether music should mean anything, I believe that this is a question best left to be answered on an individual basis. Music can be whatever it wants to be.
Read the full thesis here: