Musical musings
Comment 1


I have the stirring of vague thoughts rumbling around in my head; much in the same way that certain foods will cause my stomache to growl as if I haven’t eaten in a week. And I’m not sure where they’ll lead, so I’ll set them out here and see what works…
The thoughts, not the foods…

Of course, I’m my own worse critic. The last post seemed so darned reasonable, and well thought-out and executed, when I posted it. Now, it just seems a bit silly, especially in the execution aspect. Of course, I could always re-edit it, and in some ways it’s a good idea to let things sit a bit and age before putting it out there. How else to know whether what you’ve written is any good, or if it was more a byproduct of a bad ‘taco grande’ than the logical thought processes…?
But I also feel that a product very much belongs to it’s own time, and as I’m not preparing a submission to some scholarly trade publication, the best thing is perhaps to allow it to stand, if nothing else to remind me to be a bit more careful in the future…

But back to the rumblings…

What is it about music that makes partisan experts out of all of us?
Country fans swear theirs’ is the only true form of American music, which just sends the jazzer’s into conniptions.
Classical fans look at almost anybody else with undisguised horror, bordering on fear.
Rap versus metal versus progressive versus musical theater versus hip hop versus ‘easy listening’ versus versus versus, ad naseum…

Even within the individual genres there is devisiveness.
Some classical people will tell you that the form is dying, being dumbed down out of existence (guilty, your honor).
Serious jazzers will tell you that today’s ‘smooth jazz’ is an abomination, amounting to no more than elevator music (um… that would be me, too, your honor).
Some people will tell you that they like BOTH kinds of music, country AND western.
As I like neither of them, you may now fight it out amongst yourselves for my amusement…

What bothers me the most, aside from the above, the record companies and agents and promoters and venues and the lawyers and just about everything about the business, is the way in which we listen to music these days.
iPods and mp3 palyers of all types are marvelous devices, and I would be lost without mine.
I’m not implying anything, at this point, about HOW we listen.
I wish to discuss the WAY, or perhaps more accurately, WHY we are listening, to whichever genre moves us.

First, some background on who it is making these types of statements.

1) Just who the heck are YOU to be talking about this topic? What are your qualifications?
A) Well, I have two degrees in music, one in education and one in performance. I have conducted on two continents, instrumental and choral, and composed a small number of pieces, some of which are on a web site, and two of which are on permanent file in the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts. Other than that, I’m just this guy…

2) What are your musical preferences?
A) I am trained in classical, love jazz and rock (especially progressive rock), loathe country and ‘smooth jazz’ for reasons I will try to explain later, and have been known to be extremely moved by a good showtune or two. As long as we’re being honest…

3) What is the meaning of truth?
A) Asparagas. Really…

Frank Herbert wrote a number of books besides his acclaimed ‘Dune’ series, and in one of them he has a rather surprising quote at the beginning of a chapter:

The music of a civilization has far-reaching consequences on consciousness and, thus, influences the basic nature of a society. Music and it’s rhythms divert and compel the awareness, describing the limits within which a consciousness, thus fascinated, may operate. Control the music, then, and you own a powerful tool with which to shape the society.

It is a fascinating bit of reasoning, sort of a mobius strip style of commentary about the power over an everyday commodity.

4) Are you implying that there’s a conspiracy involved?
A) Who wants to know?

What I’m saying is that the above quote is interesting. That’s all. If you’ve been around the industry as long and as much as I have, then it becomes even more interesting. If you take what little I know about how music gets chosen for promotion, radio play and general overall inclusion into the mainstream, then certain things become sinister, while others are just inexplicable. Some people will see conspiracy, some will see incompetence and still others will see what I see in every industry in existence today; mainly that we’re all making it up as we go, which is an idea quite seperate from having strong opinions about how something should be done.

Everyone has opinions about everything. How the government should be run. How their company should be run. How the children should be taught.
Some are even willing to enforce their opinions on everyone else. In MY opinon, that is the path towards madness and anarchy.
But that’s just my opinon. I’m perfectly willing to discuss it with you, but I don’t believe that you should have the right to legislate my opinions.

But I digress…

I can no longer listen to the classical radio station in my home town because it has been dumbed down to the level of pablum.
Again, my opinon.
The current playlist has been designed to be the least offensive possible, by playing things that no one could possibly object to. Forget being challanged by the music, as I understand the original composers had in mind when they wrote the stuff in the first place. The playlist has been designed, it seems, with the express purpose of relegating the music to the level of background noise, something that will not distract you from the much more important tasks of managing someone else’s money, answering the phone or driving the kids to soccer practise. A playlist with a musical vocabulary so intrinsically familiar that we have no chance of be ‘fascinated.’ A playlist that is safe, non-threatening and oh, so boring… Music has thus been demoted to the third rank, as something deemed not important enough to even give cursory attention to. Something that in the past used to inspire, to motivate, to change people’s lives is now considered unimportant in our schools, unnecessary to our ideas and irrelevant to human growth.
I am not here arguing for the inclusion of more modern music as a means of stemming the demise of the genre. That’s a seperate discussion for another post. I am arguing for the inclusion of something other than the ‘top ten’ mentality that currently exists. It’s the “Three B’s”, all day, every day. Now I’m as big a fan of the “Three B’s” as anyone. But I also think there were plenty of other composer’s who had equally vital things to say, whose musical language may be a tad bit more acerbic than Bach, and that it’s vitally important we hear them. For most, this radio station will be their only exposure to classical music. As such, it is a wildly incomplete education.

As for jazz, there are only two radio stations in the entire northeast that even play what I consider to be legitimate jazz. One, WBGO in Newark, has a signal so weak you can’t even get it further than about 30 miles away. The other is the radio station of, I believe, Temple University in Philadelphia, which I can only receive when I’m in that town.
I’m firmly convinced that were Coltrane or Mingus to hear the current crop of ‘smooth jazz’ stations out there, they would undoubtably raze the offending stations with automatic weapons fire, an idea never very far from the surface of their music.
Go ahead, listen to their stuff. It’s all there for you to hear…

The internet has helped a bit, but not in all instances, and not in all genres.
Classical internet radio stations are also playing to the lowest common denominator.
Jazz is a bit better, progressive rock better still.

I wouldn’t know what country is like on the internet…

My point might be summed up as: Quit shoving music to the background.
Music in the past inspired armies. We are not here concerned with why they were fighting, or whether or not it was a just cause, only that they were in fact inspired.
Music in the past inspired whole societies to new heights, it inspired revolutions of thought.
Music in the past inspired the greatest artists mankind has ever known, in all fields and vice versa.
Music inspired poets.
Poets inspired painters.
Painters inspired musicians.
And what they were inspired to do was to raise their game, set the bar ever higher, and most of all, drag the rest of us, kicking and screaming if necessary, along with them.

That’s why I don’t like country, or ‘smooth jazz’. It’s the cookie cutter style of composition. I hate formulaic music writing, no matter how sincere or comforting the lyrics may or may not be.
Good music will override bad lyrics.
Good lyrics, no matter how profound, can not overcome bad music, no matter how well produced.

We have lost the ability to be moved, to be forced to consider things outside our narrow purviews by music, by poetry and art.
The ideas have lost their power through constant repetition and inadequate presentations, an idea for another post.
We’ve lost the power to be moved by political discourse for much the same reasons.
I feel we’re already well on the way towards losing the ability to understand the written and spoken word, again a post for another time.

Some ten years ago when the New York Yankees (whom I root for because I live in the area and it’s my civic duty to wish the local teams well) played the Atlanta Braves (whom I will root for above all others because I grew up there) in the World Series, the series opened in Atlanta. The music they chose over the PA for the team introductions was some hip hop thing in an attempt to appeal to a younger audience, I guess.
When the series moved to New York, the music chosen to accompany the team introductions was a movement from “The Planets”, by Gustav Holst. The movement is entitled “Mars, the Bringer of War”, an extremely unsubtle hint about the Yankee’s attitude to the whole endeavor. Unsubtle at least to me. Someone in the front office ‘got it’.
It gave me chills. It was a brilliant bit of one-upmanship. Advantage, Yankees, and, as it turned out, they won handily.
Dad gum it…

There are, of course, those of you who are the exception. And those who might benefit the most by a discussion of the issue are, of course, the one’s least likely to actually have that discussion. But it’s been my experience that there are far fewer exceptions than a poll of the general population might reveal, much in the way that 90% of the population considers themselves above average.

Guilty, your honor…

It’s just a theory…
I could be wrong…

1 Comment

  1. aljahbar says

    There is a reason Hitler’s propaganda machine choose to outlaw all but acceptable German composers for his people to listen to.

    “Control the Music….”


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