A provocative, perceptive study of the cultural dynamics of classical music in American society, Music, Talent, and Performance describes music as a metaphor of the society in which it takes place.
Author Henry Kingbury, a conservatory-trained pianist and music educator turned anthropologist forgoes the traditional ethnomusicologist approach of looking at a non-Western musical culture to focus on the "field" of an American conservatory. The result is a penetrating look at the distinction between teaching music and the nurturing of musicality. Kingsbury offers an innovative anthropological analysis of the western notion of "talent" and its cultural character, noting that many non-western societies have no such concept. Furthermore, he examines various contexts in which music is produced, experienced, and evaluated. His discussion includes the dynamics of orchestra rehearsals in the conservatory, "master class" lessons with a distinguished performer-pedagogue, the ritual characteristics of solo recitals, and an interpretive analysis of stage fright.
Ultimately, Kingsbury argues that music "is highly shifting and indeterminate in meaning," a concept that has important implications for all interpreters of culture and for the artists themselves.