The Use of Figurative Language in the Construction of Musical Meaning: A Case Study of Three Sixth Grade General Music Classes
Sakadolskis, Emilija A.
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ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: THE USE OF FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE IN THE CONSTRUCTION OF MUSICAL MEANING: A CASE STUDY OF THREE SIXTH GRADE GENERAL MUSIC CLASSES Emilija A. Sakadolskis, Doctor of Philosophy, 2003 Dissertation directed by: Professor Marie McCarthy, Chair, Music Education The intent of this study was to examine how musical meaning is constructed using figurative language (i.e., tropes such as metaphor) in the music classroom. The researcher observed three sixth-grade general music classes taught by one teacher in a private school for girls. Audio recordings of nineteen class sessions, including individual discourse of the teacher and six students, were transcribed for analysis. Theories of cognitive linguistics were applied to the data, with the theory of embodied schema guiding the analysis. Five schemata involving figurative language emerged: containment and entity, personification, verticality, regularity vs. irregularity, and location, space and motion. An additional emergent category of timbre articulations was presented. Analysis showed the ubiquitous use of the container metaphor with its in-out spatial orientation for musical events, elements, and even for persons. There were personifications of music, perceived as an "agent" who implies, speaks, and has needs. Classroom discourse frequently involved polysemous words such as up or down, high or low. Students offered value judgments of musical events based on their notions of regularity or irregularity. To a surprising extent they rejected dissonance and non-Western tunings which they perceived to be irregular rather than different. There were references to music as an external force that causes movement, occupies space, and has a clear location. Students lacking the professional vocabulary to describe timbre used similes, analogies, onomatopoeia, and synthetic metaphors. Several pedagogical implications were identified. The ambiguous meanings of polysemous words offer opportunities to explore cognitive relationships that exist between those different meanings. Teachers can bring musical meaning to consonance and dissonance by verbally bridging the chasm between disparate understandings of those concepts. Student strategies dealing with timbre descriptions point to the efficacy of developing metaphoric capacities in students. Teaching methods involving kinesthetic experience support the notion of embodied cognitive schemata, but further discussion is needed concerning the relationship among sensory experience, mental representation, and linguistic expression in the construction of musical meaning. Data analysis shows that figurative language is essential in constructing musical meaning, even as it challenges established educational thinking and practice.