Music and intellectual play

Next year at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland I’m going to be sharing the teaching of the Teaching Musics of the World module with my colleage Barnaby Brown. I was doing some background reading, having a look at Bonnie C. Wade’s ‘Thinking Musically‘, which is one of the overview volumes in OUPs ‘Global Music Series’. This is just an undergrad textbook, but I did stumble upon on a notion which set me thinking, where she discusses ‘intellectual play’:

Intellectual play as well as aesthetic choice are the major factors in an improvisatory South Indian performance practice called rāgamālikā (“garland of ragas”). Rāgamālikā comprises a progression from one rāga to another, each sufficiently similar that one must listen closely to detect the shift, but sufficiently different that contrast has been achieved. The intellectual play is enhanced when, in vocal rāgamālikā, the names of the new modes are introduced into the text, embedded in clever ways. (p126)

As ever, I find comparisons with the practices of other musical cultures illuminating with regard to my own work. There are so many ideas in my pieces: things which are there primarily for intellectual reasons. Which sounds bad and wrong, doesn’t it! Describing music as intellectual is a criticism, isn’t it? Especially if I were to self-describe my music as intellectual?