The Mysteries of Tacit Knowledge in Music

I uncovered quite by accident an example of the search for tacit knowledge. In the year 1919 Clara Kathleen Rogers (an Opera singer known as Clara Doria) published a book of memoirs called “Memories of a Musical Career” (Little, Brown , and Company). On page 233 she wrote: “There was ‘the voice of my dreams’ for me to find, – that voice that was myself. I had inklings of that dream voice every now and then. I heard from myself those searching, insinuating tones which sent a thrill through me more and more often now, but they were not always there. They came and went, I knew not why, nor did I know how to coax them back again when they left me. San Giovanni could not help me at all in my quest for some way of enchaining that magic sound, and yet I felt there must be a way, if only I could find it, – a way to hold and keep it for mine always! I would have been willing to give up ten years of my life to anyone who could tell me the secret. But there was no one!” Later in the book on page 250 Clara goes on to say: “I was constantly seeking for a way to clinch my triumphant tone. The word which expressed it for me was “it.” Yesterday “it” was mine, mine to keep forever, as it seemed; today “it” was gone, and I was as helpless as the owner of a pet bird that had flown from its cage! In vain did I plead with my teacher for help. If you only could give me some advice what to do, how to practice to get a perfect tone-emission! All I could expect from him was a kind, sympathetic smile.” On page 284 Clara describes moments with another teacher who understood what she was searching for. She described the moment: “I satisfied myself very soon that he had the right idea of tone; but he knew no more about giving directions how to obtain it than anyone else!”.

Clara needed help from those who “knew more than they could tell” – this is the essence of Polanyi’s tacit theory of knowledge. She went on years later to write a book on the philosophy of singing. I need to check it out to see if she found some way to communicate explicitly what for most of her life was trapped in an implicit, tacit sense.