The Activity of Making and Listening to Music

The activity of making and listening to music involves in something that is never merely personal. In this sense, music is like a language; when we ‘speak’ or ‘listen’ in musical language, we participate in a signifying system that is communally shared and defined, something that is larger than our own use of it and that we enter whenever we involve ourselves with music.

The problem of making judgments about music is rooted here. Its collective, communal aspect suggests that its significance exceeds our purely individual responses, but at the same time we tend to experience music as significant in intensely personal and subjective ways. This seems to be an essential quality of music: it is collectively significant but speaks to the individual in a manner inaccessible to rational argument and dispute.

Julian Johnson, Who Needs Classical Music? Cultural Choice and Musical Value, 2002