Here is one of the questions Randy raised:
“Does or should the meaning(of a phrase) change from listener to listener or is there some universal that we must aspire to? (or a combo)”
Meaning must change from person to person, as it is in large part subjective. As we process any information or stimulus, we make associations peculiar to our own, unique life experience. These personal schemata (mental images and constructs) provide the cognitive framework by which we perceive, understand, and respond to stimuli – in this case, music.
When approaching a piece of music, perhaps the ‘universal’ is music’s uncanny ability to connect a listener to her humanity. In broaching the subject of meaning in music, I was thinking about the way we use our voices to convey emotional content beyond the actual words we are saying.
I hear a great deal of playing that is ‘correct’, but deadpan – without expression. Boring. As performers, we can be most effective by understanding the content of a given score – structurally (harmonic, melodic) and historically (performance practice, etc.). Then we can make informed personal choices in creating and shaping the music.