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UCSD professor, ethnomusicologist, saxophonist, and composer David Borgo presented a wide-ranging talk last night called Why Music to a full-house at Conrad Prebys Music Center.

Utilizing written material, audio and visual examples, and most importantly, live instrumental demonstrations, Borgo posed several seemingly simple, yet deep questions on the nature, evolution and meaning of music.

Borgo came to the stage with tenor sax strapped on, and began the affair with a rapturous improvisation on Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now," a fitting title for a lecture that would end with an audience Q & A.

Toggling between breathy, Dexter Gordon type ornaments and nervous fragmentation, he ended his solo with a piercing multiphonic scream, unhooked his instrument and began his discussion with two observations: 1. We all like music. 2. We don't agree on what we like.

From there, a dizzying series of examinations from multiple perspectives, including semantics, biology, psychology, anthropology and evolution ensued.

There were lots of fascinating examples included, many of which encouraged audience participation, e.g. try to imagine singing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," without your vocal chords moving involuntarily to the contours of the melody.

Borgo also used film clips of Tuvan "throat-singing" and other ethnomusicological examples in an effort to pin down some postulations as to the origins of music itself.

He also posited arguments from the other side, including several quotes from a scientist who believed that music was of no particular evolutionary imperative.

All in all, a highly entertaining talk that still has me thinking.

Photo by Michael Klayman

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