Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Christopher F. Hasty


This dissertation poses the question, "How does music mean?" If we acknowledge that music exists in the material world as a complex sound wave only, we must wonder how music, as felt meaning, arises. Scholars have often approached this question through considering music as a language. I do not employ this approach. In fact, I criticize this analogy and the epistemology on which it is based as reductive and inconsistent with musical experience. This analogy diminishes a whole-bodied experience to one that involves only the mind and ears and decreases resonant, lived meaning to "content"--metaphorically an object transferred by speaker to hearer through the representative and referential functions of symbolic forms.

Departing from this analogy, I develop a theory of whole-bodied, lived meaning based on Lakoff and Johnson's theory of conceptual metaphor and Polanyi's epistemology of tacit knowing (bodily-based, culturally-inflected knowing that one can feel, but cannot describe in full). Using this new theory, I analyze the speech of young musicians at the Curtis Institute of Music, taking it as descriptive of meaningful musical experience. I argue that enculturated listeners feel musical meaning when, employing metaphoric and metonymic processes, they use whole-bodied imagining and perceiving to integrate dimensions of tacit knowing with the sound wave. In so doing, they transform the sound wave's physical qualities (frequency, amplitude, complexity and duration) into music's felt dynamic qualities and events (e.g., motion, force, intensity, tension, relaxation, mood, gesture or momentum). In this way, musical meaning comes to life through the energetic mediumship of listeners' tacit knowing, resonating in and throughout felt reality. Listeners do not merely hear the music and thus grasp its meaning; rather, they live its meaning. Indeed, listeners may also, through participating bodily in live or recorded musical performances, live tacitly known, felt social meanings--such as a sense of identity or place--in intensified fashion. Thus, I suggest that symbolism involves a resonant level in which participatory, lived meaning effects a connection of participants with signs, and through signs, with each other and such transcendent social realities.

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