WYNTON MARSALIS – Music As Metaphor | Harvard Lecture

In this chapter, Wynton introduces his ‘Me vs. You’ and ‘Us vs. Y’all’ vs. ‘All of Us’ contention, and argues that music has the significant power to bring us together and evoke moods and memories.

Delve into Wynton Marsalis’s six-part Harvard University lecture series, covering a range of topics including jazz, what it means to be American, and the importance of cultural literacy and the arts in the liberal arts education.


“Hidden in Plain View: Meanings in American Music” is a series of six lectures delivered at Harvard University between 2011 and 2014 sponsored by the Office of the President and Provost. The inaugural lecture, “Music as Metaphor,” was delivered in Sanders Theatre to a capacity crowd. It is an interpretation of the many unobserved symbols in American music and an investigation into how they illuminate the democratic process.

It covers many of the fundamental devices, forms, and songs that bind the different Americas together at the root. It is Marsalis’s contention that “‘Me vs. You’ and ‘Us vs. Y’all’—vs. ‘All of Us’—remains the struggle at the heart of humankind and the central debate of our Constitution. How do we achieve a common ground when individual victories are so much more valued? This conundrum has been resolved harmoniously in our musical arts for more than a century. Under the vibrant din of our democracy, on the lower frequencies, sonic metaphors speak to and for us all. What they tell us about what it means to be American could serve us well in these divisive and uncivil times.”

Performances by Marsalis’s ensemble (with special guest, the iconic fiddler Mark O’Connor) punctuate the lecture with musical explanations.

Mark O’Connor – fiddle
Walter Blanding – reeds
James Chirillo – guitar
Dan Nimmer – piano
Carlos Henriquez – bass
Ali Jackson – drums

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