I have had some thoughts activated by Steve Lawson's very interesting post about cymatics and the presentation of music. Please give it a read—Steve's analogies are thought-provoking! And as such, my thoughts and commentary here will be half-formed and very discursive.
Cymatics, like all experiments, is a translation and a question. Cymatics asks "what would these particles do if they were moved by sound?", and this question is a nuanced version of this question could be simplified further, to "what happens if we apply energy to an object?", which those of you with a physics mind will recognise as work. The translation occurs on performing the experiments. In a sense Steve's essay is a Socratic translation of the cymatics question, where particles are translated to people and the environment.
Steve then reflects the question through a logical prism, by asking "what would happen if the audience/environment were involved in the creation of sound?".
I can imagine that that final question might seem simple to answer to some composers of "new" music [in the Western through-composed music conservatoire sense]—some aleatory music requires audience participation; in some ways, Cage's 4′33″ also answers this question. Looking at other cultures, the idea of spectator participation is common. In some African cultures, spontaneous music making occurs for certain special occasions1. But I think these are superficial answers: to me, Steve is looking at how music of whatever type can interact with the people and the environment, perhaps producing new areas [both physical and affective] for the performance to go. By transferring energy to people we can truly "move" them!
Back to Socrates via Plato. If you have read some of the posts I have made of the last three years, you'll spot thinking patterns.
Improving music education is not simply a matter of "getting kids playing". The technique of some people now is astounding. It's now more a matter of listening—proper listening, and developing a love of listening from an early age. I'm not talking about understanding the mechanics/mathematics of music, but simply the love of it.
In exactly the same way that the written word needs readers, music and the spoken word needs listeners; and yet while time and effort is spent cultivating reading, less time is spent developing listening.
So here, the question becomes "what would happen if we focused on listening in music education?".
Further down in this post, I expand a bit, thinking about transcription and modes of listening. Here, I translate my initial question above to say "what would happen if we applied listening as music education to people?".
I refer to this question again after the workshop in Bath and then state more clearly: I believe that listening is the first thing that happens in music.
For me, this hypothesis needs to be tested repeatedly. Not just in formal settings with artists; but through the special relationship between the musician[s] and the audience, in various spaces and formulations.