Tag Archives: semantics


A strange thought occurred to me today while watching a DVD performance today of Raymond Scott‘s The Penguin by Mr McFall’s Chamber (check out TheirSpace ). As far as I know there is not a YouTube video of McFall’s playing this and so, to give you an idea, here it is performed by Racalmuto:

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I think we’d all agree that the piece (particularly the introduction) could be described as comical – or at the very least light hearted.

Hearing it today reminded me of a remark made at a conference I attended last Saturday entitled Communicative Musicality. The contention expressed was that music, unlike language, does not have semantics. This prompted me to wonder how, given such conditions, this tune has the potential to be unmistakably humorous – even if played in an incongruous setting e.g. a cathedral, or at an inappropriate occasion e.g. a coronation or a funeral (I’d like to have it at my own – funeral, that is). I would go as far as to imagine that nobody from a culture entirely at odds with our own would mistake this for serious music. Surely our perennial vagueness about music is unnecessary and the quixotic elements of this piece could be isolated and their contribution to the overall mood evaluated.

This in turn reminded me of another topic in the conference: how should emotions be conveyed to the audience by a performer? Is it appropriate for the performer to join in? Might they get carried away and be unable to switch emotion when change comes along? You’ll notice that no-one in the above laughing or even smiling – mind you three of them are blowing into things!

If my ears are up to the job, I’d like to transcribe this piece and arrange it for guitar ensemble one day. If successful, I promise not to instruct the pupils to perceive it in a comical light and also to report their reaction to it.

p.s. this piece appears in the climactic and heart-warming circus scene of the film Funny Bones – well worth watching for this scene alone, featuring Freddie Davies – seen in this lugubrious photo from the film.