We all learn the alphabet at school and are quite used to the idea that just twenty-six letters and a few punctuation marks are enough to communicate the wildest stories and can easily evoke the most vivid imageries and delicate feelings. The question is: can music also be reduced to an alphabet as effectively and meaningful as language? Can it be reduced to a set of discrete symbols with which the essence or meaning of music can be captured?
In some sense it is a rhetorical question. The presence of music notation shows that it is at least partly possible. But how close to our experienced, mental representation of music actually is music notation?
And that’s the other rhetorical part of the question: I would argue that music notation (as we know it) has little to do with music listening. While very useful for some purposes (e.g., sight reading or as a set of instructions of how to perform the music), as a reflection of the listening experience it fails miserably. This is why researchers like Marie Louis Serafine and Jeanne Bamberger often stressed the fact that music notation is merely an ‘after-the-fact’ notion of music, not to be taken too seriously: notation is as informative to listening as a cooking recipe is to tasting.
[More on the same topic in Dutch]