Breaking Staff Notation (Sheet Music) to Reveal Its Presumptions About Music

I have grown up listening to and making western music. It is so much of a part of me that it is sometimes hard to imagine what other forms music can take. Just in traditional five-line staff-notation, certain assumptions must be made about what music is. But these assumptions can be broken, which can cause problems when trying to notate the music.
Ever since staff notation was created, composer’s have been pushing the limits of what it can do. For example, aleatoric music leaves some aspect of the performance up to chance. In the Fall of 2018, I performed Sarah Rimkus’ “Magnificat” with the Botetourt Chamber Singers. Previously, I had sung aleatoric music before, but it was this work that made me start to think about the many different ways to break classical music. Through modifications and a non-literal interpretation of five-line staff notation, Sarah Rimkus is able to notate these complex elements, despite their non-traditional nature.
In my research this summer, I seek to break music notation. In order to do that, I need to find some assumption to twist. As I began to think about the different aspects of Western Music notation, I realized how dynamics are “tacked-on” and less important than aspects such as pitch and rhythm. As part of my research, I hope to explore new ways to use dynamical control in music such that the music cannot be written. I plan to write a song for the Botetourt Chamber Singers such that each singer functions more like an individual key on a synthesizer than as an entire instrument on its own. While staff notation will not be able to notate my song, I will seek out a different style of music notation that can, perhaps creating my own if necessary.
By “breaking” classical music, I seek to gain a better understand of what makes Western Music what it is.

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