What is musicality? The dictionary says it means “fond of or skilled in music”. That doesn’t make it, really. Most people who are musical use the word musicality to mean something much more than that. Musicianship is the skill of being a good musician, one who understands how to read and play music. You can be a skilled musician but not be very musical by nature and really not have much musicality at all.
Someone who possesses musicality is one who has a deep, visceral connection to music that has a 3-D effect on her existence. A person who is deeply musical doesn’t need someone to explain or teach what the music is “about”, they just seem to know, feel, understand and freely express what they perceive. This is probably a gift or some kind of special DNA encoding. Maybe there is a “musicality” gene. It certainly would seem that whatever this mysterious “musicality” thing is, it is a vital part of being able to communicate what’s there in the music to others.
Perhaps this goes along with being emotional or very expressive or very sensitive in a specific way. Perhaps it has to do with the ability to be demonstrative, or dramatic, or vivid. Perhaps it has to do with a keen sense of imagination or the ability to visualize music in connection with other senses, like someone with synesthesia.
There is some remarkable film footage of Glenn Gould, working with Leonard Bernstein, both of whom we can readily agree were highly musical musicians. Lenny Bernstein, someone with very definite ideas about music, deferred to Gould on the specific project they did together because Gould’s idea was that the music “didn’t go” the way Bernstein thought. It was a rare surrender on Bernstein’s part. Quite a meeting of minds, I thought. Each was clear that the music had a “way to be expressed” but it wasn’t the same thing for the two masters. This isn’t surprising to others who are themselves innately musical and also good musicians, but it might seem paradoxical to unskilled observers. How could both men be so responsive to the music and not agree on what the music contained?
This brings up the question of how a skilled musician can sometimes miss entirely what’s there in the music. Doesn’t the music itself cause emotions to flow, images to appear in the mind, movements to surge through the body? Doesn’t it seem to have a magic and a power all to itself that weaves a spell over the mind of the vocalist or instrumentalist who is performing the piece? How is it that the obvious shapes and colors inherent in the phrases or the patterns don’t jump out and make themselves dynamically clear to someone who is creating the sounds? Truly, how can you be a good musician and miss being musical? How can you be completely lacking in musicality? Unfortunately, it is all too common an experience to find someone who is a recognized musician (and this includes vocalists who are trained musicians of singing) who doesn’t have a clue as to what any of this is about and, in fact, thinks it is just so much nonsense.
I have no answers but I do know quite a few highly skilled musicians who are not in the least musical in the sense I am discussing here. They have little musicality, and they do not find it easy to swim in the responses of music that are an essential ingredient of expressiveness. They have to wonder what the music is about, and ponder how it can be evocative. They must strive to respond in a deep, authentic or meaningful way to music, so that something beyond mere notes can be communicated in a performance. They can gawk in amazement at their colleagues whose own immediacy of contact with the core of the music’s soul is effortless, true, clear and energized. And, those who are the other side of the fence, in the world of ecstatic musical bliss, can also only stare back at their compatriots wondering how they can miss what seems so obvious, so lovely and so simple. If someone is very musical, it is all so easy. If they are not, it is all so elusive or even unreal.