Love of Music

A 9-year-old boy, recently taken by his grandfather to a concert of the Boston Symphony, shouted “Wow!” at the conclusion of a performance of music by Mozart, causing an audible stir in the audience. It’s the kind of musical “gotcha!” that occurs far more often than what makes news. When I entered an auto mechanic’s shop, some years ago, where music was never played, there was music of Vivaldi one day coming out of a boombox hooked to a wall. Reading the surprise on my face, the mechanic explained that when he visited a rehearsal of the school orchestra his daughter played in, he heard “this exciting music” more exciting than any he had heard before. The thrill of it made him want to hear more classical music.

When my son took an ushering job at a local opera house, to make some needed money during his college years, his aversion to opera vanished during the performances. He was not only impressed by what he experienced, but fell in love with “Aida.” When I introduced a new song to a children’s choir, gathered around me at the organ, they absolutely hated it! I asked them to listen to it again. Between the second and third hearing, the youngsters melted into enthusiasm for the song.

This smattering of “gotchas” in music that remains out of the spotlight in America is a hint that there is something in it that can grab audiences, enchant them, make them applaud. It’s a truism that preference or “taste” in music, as with many other things, is subject to change. “The things I used to like, I don’t like anymore” goes the song “It Might As Well Be Spring” (State Fair of Rodgers & Hammerstein). With music, what one likes now is likely to be added to what one used to like. Conventional wisdom – “there is no arguing about taste” – misses the mark on this subject because it should be obvious that “taste” is not the cause of preference and choice but the effect of circumstance, influence or exposure.  

Playing in a school orchestra or band offers school children an opportunity to meet a world of music that lies off the beaten path. It helps open a door on this most mystical of the fine arts [1, 2] – a field richly inspirational and stimulating, besides being social and fun. Opening up to the world beyond pop music led me to know, appreciate, and love music from the Middle Ages to the present, and from East to West. My love affair with music made me carry a bull fiddle (double bass) in the subways of New York City to play at school functions.

Love of music remains largely unfulfilled where the opportunity or desire to explore its breathless domain is absent. What we hear routinely in supermarkets and in waiting rooms is a very poor sample of what music “is all about.” It was once common in public school to have “music appreciation” classes where students could get a glimpse of the great array of music outside of the usual fare – music that keeps surviving generation after generation of listeners.

Love of music shows in the dedication and high quality of its performance, amateur to professional. But what about the quality of composition in the music that floods our ears today? Where is the art that can still make thousands of people listen and applaud, sensing more in it than excitement or some sort of therapy? – more even than just a musical backdrop for words?

There is  no deep mystery here, regarding today’s songs. Take 4 or 5 of the 12 tones (notes) available in our musical octave, repeat them endlessly in the same sequence – this stringing of notes is known as the “melody” – wrap the notes in a routine rhythmic jacket . . .  and you have what amounts to the state of the art in composition of much of the music we hear today. I actually listen to it and find its monotony overwhelming.

At some point in any industry, which music has become over the years, an accounting should be made of exactly what is being produced, in the interest of product improvement and consumer support. With regard to new music, as in the songs presently offered the public, this should be more than an exercise in repackaging.

The great many people dedicated to excellence in the performance of music deserve our applause and gratitude. But the quality of the music they perform should match the quality of their efforts. This is no problem with the classics, but seriously, what is the musical value of the "minimalist" constructs of  today’s typical “songs”? The stultifying monotony of most of their melodic lines drives honest rating down towards zero. 

The English composer Frederick Delius wrote (“At the Crossroads,” 1920): “In the end, all art finds its own level and takes its due place in the estimation of the world: and everything that is shallow, catchpenny, sensational and insincere sinks into oblivion from which no propaganda can rescue it.” The truth of this reflects in concert halls throughout the world and wherever audiences gather to thrill to good music, old or new, ancient or modern, ultimately rejecting music of any age that is ready to hit the dustbins of history.

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[1] “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”  – Plato.

[2] “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.”  – Albert Einstein.

A 9-year-old boy, recently taken by his grandfather to a concert of the Boston Symphony, shouted “Wow!” at the conclusion of a performance of music by Mozart, causing an audible stir in the audience. It’s the kind of musical “gotcha!” that occurs far more often than what makes news. When I entered an auto mechanic’s shop, some years ago, where music was never played, there was music of Vivaldi one day coming out of a boombox hooked to a wall. Reading the surprise on my face, the mechanic explained that when he visited a rehearsal of the school orchestra his daughter played in, he heard “this exciting music” more exciting than any he had heard before. The thrill of it made him want to hear more classical music.

When my son took an ushering job at a local opera house, to make some needed money during his college years, his aversion to opera vanished during the performances. He was not only impressed by what he experienced, but fell in love with “Aida.” When I introduced a new song to a children’s choir, gathered around me at the organ, they absolutely hated it! I asked them to listen to it again. Between the second and third hearing, the youngsters melted into enthusiasm for the song.

This smattering of “gotchas” in music that remains out of the spotlight in America is a hint that there is something in it that can grab audiences, enchant them, make them applaud. It’s a truism that preference or “taste” in music, as with many other things, is subject to change. “The things I used to like, I don’t like anymore” goes the song “It Might As Well Be Spring” (State Fair of Rodgers & Hammerstein). With music, what one likes now is likely to be added to what one used to like. Conventional wisdom – “there is no arguing about taste” – misses the mark on this subject because it should be obvious that “taste” is not the cause of preference and choice but the effect of circumstance, influence or exposure.  

Playing in a school orchestra or band offers school children an opportunity to meet a world of music that lies off the beaten path. It helps open a door on this most mystical of the fine arts [1, 2] – a field richly inspirational and stimulating, besides being social and fun. Opening up to the world beyond pop music led me to know, appreciate, and love music from the Middle Ages to the present, and from East to West. My love affair with music made me carry a bull fiddle (double bass) in the subways of New York City to play at school functions.

Love of music remains largely unfulfilled where the opportunity or desire to explore its breathless domain is absent. What we hear routinely in supermarkets and in waiting rooms is a very poor sample of what music “is all about.” It was once common in public school to have “music appreciation” classes where students could get a glimpse of the great array of music outside of the usual fare – music that keeps surviving generation after generation of listeners.

Love of music shows in the dedication and high quality of its performance, amateur to professional. But what about the quality of composition in the music that floods our ears today? Where is the art that can still make thousands of people listen and applaud, sensing more in it than excitement or some sort of therapy? – more even than just a musical backdrop for words?

There is  no deep mystery here, regarding today’s songs. Take 4 or 5 of the 12 tones (notes) available in our musical octave, repeat them endlessly in the same sequence – this stringing of notes is known as the “melody” – wrap the notes in a routine rhythmic jacket . . .  and you have what amounts to the state of the art in composition of much of the music we hear today. I actually listen to it and find its monotony overwhelming.

At some point in any industry, which music has become over the years, an accounting should be made of exactly what is being produced, in the interest of product improvement and consumer support. With regard to new music, as in the songs presently offered the public, this should be more than an exercise in repackaging.

The great many people dedicated to excellence in the performance of music deserve our applause and gratitude. But the quality of the music they perform should match the quality of their efforts. This is no problem with the classics, but seriously, what is the musical value of the "minimalist" constructs of  today’s typical “songs”? The stultifying monotony of most of their melodic lines drives honest rating down towards zero. 

The English composer Frederick Delius wrote (“At the Crossroads,” 1920): “In the end, all art finds its own level and takes its due place in the estimation of the world: and everything that is shallow, catchpenny, sensational and insincere sinks into oblivion from which no propaganda can rescue it.” The truth of this reflects in concert halls throughout the world and wherever audiences gather to thrill to good music, old or new, ancient or modern, ultimately rejecting music of any age that is ready to hit the dustbins of history.

------

[1] “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”  – Plato.

[2] “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.”  – Albert Einstein.