Dr. James Perone Discusses the Role of Context in Music

May 24, 2010

A close listening to the Christmas song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” helped Dr. James Perone, professor of music at Mount Union College, prepare for his lecture given at the LINC Luncheon in the Hoover-Price Campus Center on January 19.

“Similar to what this song suggests, sometimes the same piece of music can mean two different things to two different people,” explained Perone. 

We are all music consumers, but the context in which we hear specific songs can create an entire new meaning for listeners. The most famous example of a misinterpretation of a song is Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” 

“Many people think ‘Wow this is a highly patriotic song,’ right?” Perone asked the audience.  “However, when it is looked at in context, we see it is actually an indictment of the neglect of Vietnam veterans after the war.”

Perone also explained that television commercials often use songs out of context to sell a product.  For example, the song “American Woman” by The Guess Who, a Canadian band, was used as an advertisement for blue jeans.  The band however wrote the song as a metaphor for the problems they saw in the United States of America.

“We need to think carefully when interpreting songs,” Perone ended.  “We need to consider not just the context of the music in our lives, but in others’ lives as well.” 

Perone, a native of Columbus, joined the Mount Union faculty in 1994.  He earned a bachelor’s degree from Capital University in 1980.  He then pursued graduate studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he received his master’s degree in clarinet performance in 1982, his master’s degree in music theory in 1984 and a doctoral degree in music theory in 1988.  In 2009, he was selected as the Margaret Morgan Ramsey Professor in Music.

The luncheon series know as LINC (lunch, information, networking and conversation) was conceived to take advantage of the local expertise that exists in Alliance, especially given the College's outstanding academic reputation.

The sessions are open to the public and will run from noon until 1 p.m. during the third Tuesday of the months of February and March. The cost for the lunch is $10.

The February 16 session will feature Dr. Beth Canfield-Simbro, assistant professor of human performance and sport business, who will focus on adolescent risk behaviors by presenting “What Are Those Crazy Kids Up To?” Dr. Peter Schneller, associate professor of education and co-chair of the Department of Education, will discuss “Creativity: Friend or Foe?” on March 16.



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