Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Thursday, October 26, 2006

When I sat down to write tonight I thought these thoughts might be related, but now I feel they are not, and so I shall merely list.

1. The mechanical reproduction of music puts a real squeeze on the value of music -- literally makes me people value it less. This has been going on since Edison, but file sharing has exacerbated and exponentialized it.

2. I regret the rock myth that teaches that the musician is an inarticulate unconscious vessel for the creation that emerges through him or her: it mystifies and obfuscates. Two corollaries to this: First, few rock musicians have done much writing about the music; contrast that with jazz or classical, where memoirs and critical writing by musicians are much more usual. Second, the myth of the unconscious artist gives critics license to suppose that they are more intelligent than the musicians.

Like in that Jane Campion movie about the piano on the beach -- the music just pours out of the mute woman.

* * *

I have a CD of Glenn Miller radio broadcasts before he leaves for war. His last broadcast, he hands the baton to Harry James, who will be taking over the radio show, and he makes a brief speech referring to "when I come back after we win this thing" (I'm paraphrasing). Miller did not come back. He died in a plane crash.

The new Klezmatics CD sets previously unsung Woody Guthrie lyrics to music. After the band had written the music to the World War 2 song "Goin' Away to Sea," the estate learned that Guthrie had not written the lyric, but a friend of his had. The singer is going away to sea to fight Hitler and the fascists, and "when this war is won and through" he's gonna come right back to you.

Almost 25 years later, when the singer of "Last Train to Clarksville" gets drafted to fight in Vietnam, he doesn't know if he's "ever coming home." He doesn't understand the reason for the war, and the absurdity of it leaches the possibility of confidence and the desirability of putting on a brave face.
#1 is unfortunately true and something I, too, think a lot about. It's a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, $0.99 is a great threshold to explore new music. On the other hand, it has created a reality for a lot of people to consider classical and jazz as "background" music. The challenge is getting them from the earbuds to the concert hall to see it live and engage in the art making process.
Recorded music has always been background music, and the literary evidence indicates that live music has often been used as background music as well. In Jane Austen, music is an occasion for flirting, gossiping, and dancing more than for listening, for most of the characters; same in Edith Wharton.

I've gone to the orchestra once in the past year, and was so disappointed I didn't even blog about it. Went to a Mozart show at the Seattle Symphony. The first half was made up of teen-age works, and their sparkling moments were rare. The second half was more happening, but I resented the ticket price for music that struck me as scholars' music -- the only reason Mozart's teen-age music gets any attention is because of the music he wrote as an adult. The assumption behind the programming -- "Mozart = Genius, therefore, anything written by him = Genius!" -- struck me as wrong; not only musically, but also bad outreach. If they'd've billed it as a scholars' concert, that would've been different.

I've wanted to go to the Orchestra more, but have not succeeded in making the plans necessary. What I'd love to see more of: free concerts in the schools. I heard a string quartet play a Bartok piece in my school gym in 5th or 6th grade, and I've never forgotten it.
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