A person I imagine is a Musical Assumptions reader sent me a link to this 2004 New York Times article by Bernard Holland that I found to be great food for thought. I won't duplicate my reply, but I will use this moment as an excuse for a ramble.
Holland touches (without articulating it as such) on the difference between ways of knowing that are best demonstrated by looking at the German "to know" verbs Kennen and Wissen. Wissen could be applied to "stuff you know about," while Kennen is used to talk about things you know personally, like people.
I'm not sure if I could use Kennen to talk about a composer who I have never met, but I suppose could use it to talk about his or her music.
Anyway, my ramble concerns the what Holland muses on concerning the difference between appreciation and understanding when it comes to music. I consider the road between appreciating and understanding music, particularly of the "classical" kind, to be long, winding, dangerous, and always under construction. As a matter of fact, once I think I understand something, I am often proven wrong.
When I was growing up my father used to abbreviate his saying, "I don't pretend to understand these things," as the word "IDPTUTT." I totally forgot about that "saying" until ten minutes ago. He used it to try to explain (or explain away) the interpersonal workings of musicians and administration in his orchestra. I use it to try to explain what it is I know about music itself. Which, I can proudly way is more slanted towards the "easy" slide of the teeter-totter, and we can call "appreciation."
The more I mess with music as a practicing and performing musician, the more I am able to observe patterns, tendencies, mannerisms, idiosyncrasies, and "personality" in the music I play, but the more I write, the less I am able to see those things in my own music.
The closer a person is to me, the less I seem to know about the way that person thinks and acts. Perhaps that is the reason we develop close relationships: the element of surprise and delight that they can bring.
I have close friends who have absolute feelings about the teachings of their religion(s). These are really good people who "walk the walk" in addition to "talking the talk," and appear to be certain that their understanding of the universe, life, and their concept of an afterlife is correct. (Some of my favorite composers like Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, and Brahms fall into this category as well). My sense of "understanding" anything is constantly in flux, and I can't even imagine what it would feel like to be certain about anything. In a way I envy that singular mindset, but I always seem to pull away from it by trying to learn new things and new ways of looking at and listening to everything.
Perhaps we return most to those things that we can't understand, because we experience them with our senses rather than with our minds. Food would be an example. Some people can conjure up flavor from out of the blue, but when they do it becomes a craving for the real thing. We may not "understand" why we want something, but we are sure happy when we get it. Our senses sing.
It works the same way with music for me.
We can know (as in the verb Wissen) what needs to go together to make a particular kind of food come together, but perhaps it is our senses that allow us to know (as in the verb Kennen that something needs a bit of salt. Or cumin.
And with music it works the same way.
You can supply your own examples. It's time for me to think about lunch.