Quote: writing (talking) about music is like dancing about architecture (1983) (singing about football 1982) (singing about economics 1918)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sun Jan 24 16:46:15 UTC 2010

Fred Shapiro wrote
> Thanks, Garson, for this wonderfully thorough and surprising
> posting!  At a time when it has become clear that there is some
> real wackiness being posted on this list, it is gratifying to see a
> new participant contributing material of such quality.

Thanks to Fred Shapiro for his very kind remark. Reading the
remarkable landmark reference work, the Yale Book of Quotations,
provided a key impetus for my interest in tracing quotations.
Appreciation also for sharing your knowledge at the New York Times
Freakonomics blog.

Victor Steinbok wrote
> I missed Garson's original post, but was intrigued by the idea from the
> original quotes. One thought that crossed my mind was that the
> music/architecture quote might have originated with a French
> postmodernist rather than with an English-speaking musician or writer
> (at least the architecture version--not the football and economics ones).
> I clearly had too much time on my hands today, so I spent some of it
> expanding the search. I tried to avoid overlap with Garson's findings
> and with those of Alan Scott (with some minor exceptions).

Thanks to Victor Steinbok for finding a marvelous collection of
citations. I particularly like the variants "writing about music is
like fishing about architecture" and "writing about art is like
knitting about music". Gratitude for the time, effort, and skill that
went into your compilation.

Is it possible that some of the links to citations are misdirected?
The link in the following text about Thelonius Monk seems to point to
a Frank Zappa attribution.

> Attribution to Thelonius Monk can be traced (with some direct citations)
> to Krin Gabbard's Introduction to 1995 Representing Jazz
> (http://bit.ly/7vtyc9), but even Gabbard is cautious about this
> attribution--unlike those who followed who were far less cautious.

The following link goes to a Martin Mull attribution and not a Robert
Palmer attribution I think.

> http://bit.ly/5z29Ij
> The Book of Bob: Choice Words, Memorable Men; By Tom Crisp (2007, p. 38)
>> Trying to describe something musical is like dancing to architecture.
>> --Robert Palmer, 1949-2003

During my initial investigation I also found some quotes about the
difficulty of verbal communication in the domain of music that did not
follow the mutational template: "like X-ing about Y". One set uses a
simile involving the dissection of a flower.

Citation: 1876 April, Macmillan's Magazine, Volume 33, Madcap Violet
by William Black, Page 501, Macmillan and Co.

But talking about songs is like scraping a rose-leaf to see where the color is.

Citation: 1903, Zeitschrift der Internationalen Musikgesellschaft,
Heft 5 (Issue 5), Vierter Jahrgang (Year 4), Page 298, Breitkopf &

To analyse music is like dissecting a flower; nevertheless by national
music we divine national character.

Citation: 1972, And God Gave the Increase, Page 176, First Baptist
Church. (Google Books snippet view)

To write about music is like dissecting a rose to discover the secret
of its beauty and fragrance.


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