Last year I ranted about the inappropriateness of the word “song” to connote every kind of musical work. But perhaps the reason this malapropism occurred is that we really don’t have a decent word to embrace every possible musical creation. The term most new music types use is “piece,” which to me has always sounded kind of forced.
But other terms are much worse. “Composition” sounds awfully academic—like someone’s term paper, even. And ultimately, it isn’t an accurate way to describe music that is primarily improvised since the word implies that the music was, well, composed. “Work” and “opus” get progressively more pretentious.
Perhaps I should get over my aversion to “piece.” I’ve been thinking about this a lot this past week. There’s something in the metaphor that the phrase “piece of music” evokes that’s really kind of beautiful. It implies that whatever any of us does is not self-contained and is, in fact, part of a much larger whole. I love the idea that all of the music I write as well as listen to is somehow connected to everything else.
“Piece” of music also hints at the eternal, ultimately unknowable-in-its-totality quality that music has. Everytime you experience music, you are only experiencing a small part of what is out there, just a piece of it. We can only experience pieces of music; we’ll never experience it all. But within the associations of the word “piece,” there’s also the hope of “another piece.” Like a piece of pizza or great chocolate cake, if you’re into it, you’ll be hungry for more.