Lazy Luddite Log

29.2.20

Sweet Concord

I usually discuss music itself but here I want to look back over my experience of attitudes to music. Each of us has distinct musical tastes and yet one thing we all share is that we are all into some kind of music. Well most of us anyway. Shakespeare stated that "the man that have no music in himself, nor is moved by concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, statagems and spoils". Well, I'm keen on music both sweet and savoury but I get his sentiment. Music seems like something fundamentally human. And yet I have met the odd person who seems to lack that. Or if they are at all into music it is for its non-musical aspects - consider the comedy of Weird Al Yankovic. But that is rare and for most of us it is differences over which music we are into that can be striking.

I have long been puzzled by musical snobbery or even narrow tastes. However I have been guilty of these in the past. A big one for me was the dismissal of electronic music. In feeling that way I was following my nerdy university peers. Eventually I realized that was a flimsy position to hold while also loving electro-magnetic amplification. The old acoustic purists of folk and jazz had firmer ground to stand on. And yet even they would listen to recordings of acoustic music. I think our underlying problem with electronic music back then was its new and growing application as dance music and its 'mind-numbing' repetitiveness. However since then I have enjoyed the same mesmerizing repetition from a band jamming for a writhing throng. Iteration can serve its purpose very well.

Criteria for judging music are subjective. I object to cultural relativism in relation to human rights but for something like music it makes more sense. We could say that complexity makes music more challenging to play and more rewarding to consume but that is just a definition we set for ourselves. And many of us apply such criteria selectively so that our emotional preferences are favoured. Thus we re-cast our favourite music as the ‘best’ music.

By the time I got involved with choristers I was thoroughly into popular music. I was therefore a bit wary of musical snobbery among these classical and theatrical enthusiasts. And yet what I discovered was more acceptance of music in its variety than among Korner friends. I was so relieved by an opera student among them putting on Shaggy while dancing about cooking a dinner!

If anything, I find that the more musically versed a person is the more accepting they will be of all kinds of music. Possibly a part of this is that they have a greater curiosity for music. This contrasted with the lack of curiosity I observed among others in my younger days. It was a common thing for someone to have an album, possibly a movie soundtrack, in a genre such as blues. It would be much played and yet was token because they never bothered exploring the genre beyond that.

This has changed more recently with friends getting the memo (aka meme) that diversity is important. Lists of artists of different backgrounds that one should patronize have circulated. I never had to try because diverse genres result in a diversity of artists. Variety is the spice of life and I hope those lists promote enjoyment rather than just a sense of worthiness.

Another recent trend is the tendency to critically scrutinize lyrical content for its lack of ethics. I’m wary of this because I think we are foolish to conflate depiction with endorsement but, even if there was something to this, I find the standard is applied selectively. The songs of daggy old popular artists in particular come under fire, while the intentionally offensive and gross content of some alternative acts somehow gets a free pass. Once more the issue is subjectivity – we like whatever we happen to like and rationalize it as something more than that.

If I need to improve my own listening habits it is to try new music more. However there is so much music in every decade that I can discover new music in both the past and present. And if anything that stance is more common now than it once was. I get the feeling that the youth of today are more into the music of circa 1970 than the youth of then were into the music of circa 1920. Music of any era or origin can be worthwhile. Even if it cannot promote 'concord' or hamper 'strategems' I still think it enhances our lives and our ability to cope with its challenges.

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