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Darby English

Summer is the season for foreground music, when our desire for melodic accompaniment is on spectacular display. It cradles the widely held conviction, astutely explored by Barry Shank in The Political Force of Musical Beauty (Duke University Press), that the word song does rotten justice to certain units of musical experience. As, for instance, when some tune, in the process of unfolding itself, appears at once to exist for us alone and to matter beyond measure. It can happen in a club or a car or a chair. Such an experience’s apparent privacy can make its “political force”—Shank’s apposite term—difficult to capture. Shank draws these effects, and insights into the kinds of collectivity they suggest, from an impressive range of musical forms.

Darby English is Starr Director of the research and academic program at the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, and consulting curator

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