The Heart of Musical Experience Is Expectation - Facts So Romantic

The Heart of Musical Experience Is Expectation - Facts So Romantic

In “Half-Wit,” an episode of House, Gregory House, a brilliant Sherlock Holmes-like doctor (and a decent musician) wheels a piano into a patient’s room. It’s a delightful moment: The patient is a musical savant named Patrick, played by the musician Dave Matthews—a painful muscle contraction in his hand, suffered during a performance, brought him in. House begins to play a piece which, he later tells a colleague, he wrote in junior high. Patrick picks up on the tune and joins House, and they play together, but only until House stops: The good doctor never could figure out what should come next. House watches Patrick, in what seems like rueful astonishment, fill in what was missing. “It’s good,” a colleague tells House, when he’s found replaying Patrick’s addition. House shakes his head. “It’s perfect.”

That ability—of conjuring what is next—is musical expectation, says Jonathan Berger, a professor of music at Stanford, where he teaches composition, music theory, and cognition at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. An acclaimed composer himself, Berger has explained, in Nautilus, that musical expectations, and the way composers and performers choose to manage them, lie at the heart of the musical experience.

“Daniel Dennett…
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