Can you be a great musician without being able to read?

More great thinking on the debate of ‘is modern music crap?’ and a dig in on the topic of reading music from the wonderful Jay Stapley.

Jay’s latest blog post

In response to this, I believe anyone that enforces the notion that you have to read music to be a good musician is ignorant of the function of music. Music is a communication of an emotional message too nuanced or overwhelming for words alone to convey. The expression of our emotion is not always reliant on intellect or vocabulary – sometimes pure delivery can carry the message. Inarticulate but impassioned musicians have been creating moving art for as long as music has existed.

Written music is simply a medium in which the ideas can exist – they are not the ideas themselves.Nowhere have I been more aware of this than watching Gypsy musicians in Belgrade. All of them musically illiterate, but playing music that was rhythmically, harmonically and melodically so far beyond my grasp, all played with unbelievable technique and delivered with fire and passion.
That very day, I decided that the written side of music is only one path to creating a sound that moves people.
I read and write and I can barely describe my joy when a string quartet brings one of my pieces to life – notation plays a big part in my process, but mine is only one way of creating and because it uses what may be seen as ‘proper’ processes doesn’t make it any more valid.

When the listener hears my music are they moved?
Yes – job done.
No – Needs work.
Do they have any idea how I created this sound or what processes were used in the writing?
Unless they are a very curious musician (so that cuts out 99% of the population) they don’t care and they would have no way of understanding the process. Diners don’t care what order the spices were added. They care if the meal tastes good.