January 24, 2011

Not the Best Way to Start the Morning

Reading an article about the collapse of Classical music.

The article itself is alarming, and the comments afterwards are insightful. I think that there is something to the idea that classical musicians have undermined their role in several ways. Two of these explanations include:

Modern music. As a performer, I can see the following dilemma: The music I love most--that of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and their fellow greats--is music that has been played and recorded numerous times, making me essentially a cover artist. In the 20th century, under the avant garde, music became highly "intellectual," with composers trying to change the language of music itself, abandoning traditional rules of melody and harmony, and created intellectual sound experiments instead. A lot of musicians claim to enjoy these modern works, but I'm not one of them. And I don't blame audiences for not liking them. (I want to clarify something--the term "20th century music" is a blanket term that would lump a gazillion different styles of music together. There is a lot of 20th-century music that I love.) But I suppose playing works by a composer from any era, including the most recent, still doesn't qualify as "original music." It used to be that musicians composed and performed their own music. Name a composer or a performer from the 19th century and any time before that, and they did both. Mozart performed the music he composed. Violin virtuosos wrote music for themselves to play that showcased their strengths. I don't know when it happened, but at some point, performers became "interpreters," rather than improvisers.

Public Education. One of the great ironies is the way musicians have led the fight to keep music in our schools, yet we have still failed to raise a new generation of music lovers. Have we undermined our cause by turning over the education of our children to others? This is a question that extends beyond music, as Americans repeatedly ask how it is that our kids' scores keep falling in all areas--reading, writing, math, science, in spite of the billions of dollars we pour into education. Are parents giving up their responsibilities to teach their children, when they feel comfortable in turning it over to public schools? If you look at all of the great composers, most of them were taught by their parents. Bach came from a musical family. Leopold Mozart was a prominent musician who taught his son Wolfgang the family business. Beethoven and Brahms were both first taught by their fathers. I have long argued that if you want your child to succeed in music, that child needs to have private lessons, for they will not be prepared to sustain a musical career with what they have learned in years of school orchestra, band or choir. I understand that everyone cannot afford to give their child private lessons, and I don't propose that we cut school music programs, but some of the greatest musicians of all time came from very poor families. Parental involvement is essential.

There are other factors coming into play--the digital revolution means that we can download great music and listen in the comfort of our homes, rather than make a trip and spend a lot of money for a live performance. I don't have answers to these specific kinds of problems, but I think it essentially boils down to the two things above: Composers and performers being willing to create a product that people want to buy; and instilling a value of the great and beautiful in our future audiences.


Marie said...

Yep, parents are totally failing their kids. Me included in alot of areas. You bring up a great point. So many problems of today come down to the fact that our generation does not know how to parent.

Judy said...

These are some very profound thoughts. You should write for the National Great Thought Society--if there was one!