Charles Seeger, Honorary Founder
(College Music Symposium 16:149-50, 1976)

University of Washington


AT THE FINAL session of the College Music Society 1975 Annual Meeting the Society honored one of the great figures in American music, Charles Seeger. By unanimous vote of the Board and Council Dr. Seeger has been created an Honorary Founder of the College Music Society. In response to the tribute Dr. Seeger shared some thoughts on the philosophy of music and musicology, and some eternal problems faced by an organization such as CMS which attempts to integrate different areas and approaches to music teaching. It is impossible to do justice to Charles Seeger in a brief summary; fortunately his collected papers will soon be published by the University of California Press, and his ideas will reach the broad public they deserve in unadulterated form. Following are a few excerpts from his talk and a brief bibliography of his major papers in this field.

"The problem of the one and the many: you'll be up against it in negotiating somehow or other a practical solution within music, between history, theory, and performance.... There is no solution to the problem. You'll struggle with your integration practically (as you have to), and you will eventually find out, I'm quite sure, ... that you can't please everybody....

"Quite a number of the terms that we bandy about like beauty, the sublime, love, sometimes even goodness, in its highest abstraction as a concept--you can't say they exist or do not exist. Up to comparatively recently, beauty was in the symphony, or wasn't. But psychologists got over that and considered beauty an experience. Well, now, put your finger on that experience. You can't do it. The experience of the beautiful is something that comes in a flash at a time when you're not all hitched up with electrodes all over your head and machines on your pulse, and your temperature, and your muscular tension, and all kinds of things like that. I have my doubts that the experience of the beautiful will define beauty.... No, we're in the thrall of the linguo-centric predicament, and its dichotomies are not so much things in themselves as horns of dilemmas....

"Does music communicate meaning? Does it refer to anything outside of ourselves? It's all talk. Music doesn't have to mean anything at all, and you can know it very well. So you've got these two principal means of communication through our ears--one symbolic [language], the other mostly asymbolic [music]. You can talk about music all you like, but you can't music about talk. That problem has occupied me, as I can say, all my life....

"For goodness sakes, see through our musical problems sub specie aeternitatis! . . ."

Some papers by Charles Seeger


"Systematic Musicology: Viewpoints, Orientations, and Methods," Journal of the American Musicological Society 4(3):24?-248, Fall 1951.

"Preface to the Description of a Music" in: Kongress-bericht, Internationaler Gesellschaft fur Musikwissenschaft, Utrecht, 1952, Amsterdam, 1953, pp. 360-370.

"Towards a Universal Sound writing for Musicology," Journal of the International Folk Music Council 9:63-66, 1957.

"Prescriptive and Descriptive Music Writing," Musical Quarterly 49(2):184-195, April 1958.

"On the Moods of a Music Logic," Journal of the American Musicological Society 13:224-261, 1960.

"Semantic, Logical, and Political Considerations Bearing upon Research in Ethnomusicology," Ethnomusicology 5(2):77-80?, May 1961.

"Music as a Tradition of Communication, Discipline, and Play," Ethnomusicology 6(3): 156-163, September 1963.

"Preface to the Critique of Music," Inter American Music Bulletin 49, September October 1965. 23 pages.

"The Music Process as a Function in a Context of Functions," Yearbook, Inter American Institute for Musical Research, Tulane University, II, 1966, pp. 1-42.

"The Folkness of the Non folk vs. the Non folkness of the Folk" in: Bruce Jackson, ed., Folklore and Society: Essays in honor of B. A. Botkin, Hatboro, Pa., 1966.

"Factorial Analysis of the Song as an Approach to the Formation of a Unitary Field Theory," Journal of the International Folk Music Council 20:33-39, 1968.

"On the Formational Apparatus of the Music Compositional Process," Ethnomusicology 13(2): 230-247, May 1969.

"Toward a Unitary Field Theory for Musicology," Selected Reports, Institute of Ethnomusicology, Volume 1, No. 3, 1970, pp. 171-210.

"Reflections Upon a Given Topic: Music in Universal Perspective," Ethnomusicology 15(3): 385-398, September 1971.

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