Week 3: Listen!


This week, I was immersed in sound and music, visibly.

There are two musical instruments, a male Tanjore Tambura and a Ghanti bell clapper from 19th century’s India. However, the photographic images of these items in MET collection may fall on deaf ears. Viewers in the gallery can appreciate them in terms of craftsmanship and heritage. I can only see the representation (partial) of the photographic images; the pitch range and the resonance and made from each instrument can only be imagined. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around, does it make any sound? Same old philosophical question applies with a twist – if a musical instrument can only be collected, displayed and untouched but doesn’t make any sound, is it still a musical instrument?

On Jan 17/18, it’s a Benedictine Antiphonary from 15th c. Italy. This is a manuscript that beholds the history of religion, visual art and music. In Choirs of Angels: Painting in Italian Choir Books 1300-1500, its values are certain:

For the art historian, these illuminations bear witness to exceptional aesthetic accomplishment. For the musicologist, choir books provide a rich sources in the history of notation and the development of chant, the transcendent tonalities of which have great contemporary appeal. For the historian, choir books serve as primary sources in the study of the lives of religious communities and the philosophy and faith that infused medieval Europe. And most important, for visitors to the Museum, our choral manuscripts exemplify the extraordinary creativity of artists in Italy on the eve of the Renaissance.

For a layman like me, I can associate the adorned typography with something religious, artsy and related to singing – a traditional Christmas card. As a kid, I liked drawing Christmas cards and this kind of typography. While my memory flies away, the most attentive listener is Carmelita Requena (by Thomas Eakins).

Eakins, said to be America’s greatest, most uncompromising realist, painted this in 1869, when he was travelling to Spain after his study in Paris. The young girl feels at ease on bright and elaborate attire, light shining on her forehead and cheekbone with her eyes closed. Putting her together with pages of music and sound, she was indulged in a scene not to be heard but to be imagined.


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