What Does it Mean for a Musician to Interpret Sheet Music?

What Does it Mean for a Musician to Interpret Sheet Music?

Answered by Er-Gene Kahng, graduate chair, violin, in the Music Department

Interpretation starts from acknowledging the shared rules of a notation system and being aware that such notation systems are inevitably incomplete and imprecise. As there can be interesting conversations surrounding interpretations of a law, there can be similar conversations and interpretations of how a musical notation may be realized. This may involve “reading in between the lines,” where the possible meanings of a notation may have been assumed, subsumed, or otherwise escaped the awareness or intention of the composer.

In the case of living composers, it is wonderful to engage in questions and conversations about what was intended or implied vs. what may be assumed or apparent to an interpreter. Multiple divergent or even conflicting meanings may also emerge, resulting in a variety of equally valid ways a score may be musically realized.

If the composer is deceased, that conversation must take place through secondary sources, such as correspondences, next of kin (if possible), biographies, historical context, knowledge of musical trends at the time, familiarity with the composer’s body of work, and possibly even “our best guesses” where there are significant gaps in information or knowledge.

The primary goal of realizing a work will always lend itself to related secondary and tertiary questions that further refine the interpretive process and present even more questions that, when addressed fully, reward the interpreter with a more integrated, convincing, and ultimately complete musical product.

Er-Gene Kahng

Er-Gene Kahng

Professor of Violin and Graduate Studies Chair

Er-Gene Kahng has held positions with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the Lancaster Symphony, New Haven Symphony Orchestra, and Eastern Connecticut Symphony. She currently serves as concertmaster of the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra and assistant concertmaster of the Fort Smith Symphony.

In addition to being a member of the Fulbright Trio, the resident faculty piano trio, Kahng participates in and co-founded the Fulbright Summer Chamber Music festival, a six-week summer chamber music series. She also serves as the violin faculty and 2nd violinist in a string quartet as part of the Bay View Music Festival in Petoskey, Michigan.

During the 2016-2017 academic year, Kahng was a Visiting Fellow at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England. Kahng is a member of College Music Society and American String Teachers Association.

About The Author

An alumna of the U of A who enjoys writing about nearly everything.

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University Relations Science and Research Team

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