What the experts I listed above look at and think about instead of aesthetics, are the normal objects of study of their disciplines: psychologists study the psychology of people, neurophysiologists study brain waves (and other similar stuff, I guess), other kinds of scientists study whatever their objects are, music theorists study how music is structured, music historians study the history of music and so on. Both music theorists and music historians can venture into aesthetics as it is a field that can overlap their own, but they usually don't.
I think that aesthetics, a branch of philosophy, was banished to the wilderness sometime in the last few decades because it seemed too abstract for scholars who were more interested in non-aesthetic issues like diversity, oppression, equity and so on. Aesthetics has a long history as it was one of the many fields of philosophy that was born out of the intellectual ferment of Athens in the 4th century BC. The locus classicus of aesthetics is usually considered to be the Poetics of Aristotle which is described as follows:
The Poetics is in part Aristotle's response to his teacher, Plato, who argues in The Republic that poetry is representation of mere appearances and is thus misleading and morally suspect. Aristotle's approach to the phenomenon of poetry is quite different from Plato's. Fascinated by the intellectual challenge of forming categories and organizing them into coherent systems, Aristotle approaches literary texts as a natural scientist, carefully accounting for the features of each "species" of text. Rather than concluding that poets should be banished from the perfect society, as does Plato, Aristotle attempts to describe the social function, and the ethical utility, of art.The only real difference between what Aristotle was doing and what a music theorist would be doing today is that the contemporary theorist draws strict lines around what counts as music theory and they do not include things like historic or social context (which are left to musicologists) or criticism or examination of the reception of musical works. The last two things take us into aesthetics. I suppose that you could argue that all music theory is really a kind of sub-branch of aesthetics, as it involves a close examination of the musical work, which is an aesthetic object. But I think that theorists don't like to think in those terms. They want to stick to the internal mechanics of the composition and avoid the broader picture.
The kinds of questions aesthetics poses and attempts to answer include:
- what was the intention of the artist (composer)?
- what is the relation between the artist's intention and the aesthetic object?
- how can you account for the variation in taste between people?
- how can you account for the consistency in aesthetic valuation?
- what is the ontological status of the aesthetic object? (By this I am referring to the question of what is, exactly, the Symphony No. 5 by Beethoven? Is it the score? If so, is it the autograph score or the one in the Beethoven Edition? Is it the disco arrangement? Is it a particular performance? Is it all the performances? Is it only the "correct" performances? Does one where half the notes were wrongly played count? And so on.)
- do aesthetic objects have ethical content? do they make us "better" persons? The answer to this is usually "no", but is that true? How do we know?
- is there a causal relationship between the mood of the composer when he was writing it and the mood of the musical work? what about the mood of the performer(s)?
- are judgements of value about artworks possible?
These are characteristic aesthetic questions and while they might seem to be a bit abstract, they do all focus on the nature of the artwork which makes them aesthetic questions and not scientific ones.
For our envoi, here is Walter Murphy's disco arrangement of passages from the Symphony No. 5 of Beethoven. If you say that this is NOT the Symphony No. 5 and we argue about it, that would be an aesthetic discussion.