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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Academics, Kentucky, and the Impending Destruction of the Foundations of Music

I've decided that I'm really going to make an effort to update this on a daily basis, now. But would really help is if people actually read it, follow it, and even leave comments occasionally. Sounds good, right?

The semester is now coming to a close, and I might have a little more free time on my hands over the Summer to actually do things I want to do. I'm pretty excited as I'm fairly certain that I may have bagged a 4.0 for this semester. And I have worked hard for that 4.0. Let's talk about this for a bit, in regards to the recent accusations of one Robert Montgomery Knight to the University of Men's basketball team. Aside from the fact that these accusations are false, Knight may have been on to something. Don't pay attention to sports? Well, its pretty much the same song that's been going on for decades now.

Basketball Star goes to school on full scholarship.
Basketball Star never goes to classes.
Basketball Star is in bad academic standing.
Basketball Star doesnt care because he enters the draft his first year.

OK, so according to Mitch Barnhart, the Athletic Director at UK, these students passed with high GPAS and good academic standing (i.e. John Wall had a 3.5.). First of all, am I an idiot? Even when I worked 75% hard as I should have it was ridiculously hard for me to achieve a 3.0. I've put every amount of effort I have into this semester, and I may be getting a 4.0. I'm not saying that it isn't true that John Wall's GPA is high, but I have also attended school with LOTS of athletes. RARELY have they ever attended class on a 'passable' basis. And further more, the speech projects and assigns they tend to turn in are done in a fashion where you are pretty sure they spent very little time in their construction. So, ok.....they have a 3.5. But does it occur to people that perhaps they have the 3.5 because they get special favors from professors because of who they are and how much money they bring in for the University? THAT is the REAL crime. I'm sorry....but I will NEVER admit that a college basketball player works as hard at academics as I do, mainly because they don't have nearly the time that I have to focus towards my studies.

OK, done with my soapbox speech. I went to see the Indiana University Southeast Orchestra perform Mahler Symphony No. 1 last weekend. It was the first time I've ever seen a Mahler symphony performed lived, and that is pretty exciting. If you aren't familiar with Mahler....GET FAMILIAR with his music. As far as the performance goes, it was less-than perfect but still a successful performance. The problems were that it was somewhat thin, particular because of the variety of musicianship. You had anywhere from high school students (or first year college, maybe)to professional musicians performing together. I'm sure there were some tense moments in rehearsal....
....but I did really enjoy the concert as a whole. I mean, its long as its not a disaster, it sounds awesome. And fortunately, I was asked by the director Dr. Goldstein if I could play trombone for the Summer Pops concert, and most likely the fall semester. I haven't played trombone in well over six years.....thus meaning the next three weeks will be similar to basic training only in trying to re-learn a musical instrument for me.

The Louisville Orchestra, who many of the instrumentalists that played during the Mahler hail from, is under the threat of being reduced to the size of 45 musicians. To summarize what this means according to Dr. Joanna Goldstein, that's ok if you don't mind going to concerts where nothing but Mozart and Haydn is played...and pretty much anything prior to the 1830's. You can forget Shostakovich, Respighi, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Dvorak, and pretty much anything written in the 20th century. This is a pretty big outrage, but also a wake up call that we have officially entered a new era of cultural music. People prefer Lady Gaga over the works of composers that actually put countless hours of manuscript writing and organized hundreds of musicians to premier their new works. People think a 15 year old singing 4 minute pop songs with enhanced electronical sounds and overabundant light shows is more impressive than a 7 year old writing a 20 minute piano sonata using nothing but paper and an out of tune piano. But hey...what do I know? Don't get me wrong.....I'm not saying that pop singers should be abolished (although that would be a pleasant little christmas gift), but I think people should not allow the foundations of music and our society die without a good solid fight...and that's what is happening.

Alas, I intend to keep writing music and hopefully there will be orchestras and bands still around when I am dead so my music won't die away like many composers. Incidentally, I am nearing the completion of my first ever concert band work. It's an aggrivating process, but as I mentioned earlier....I am using a computer with perfect notation that plays the music back for me. Centuries ahead of what Beethoven had.....and he didnt even have ears!

If you are reading this, please do me a favor and do what you can to support professional orchestras. They are a dying breed, and if we have people out there creating human barricades from machines intending to chop down a single tree......perhaps it shouldn't be that difficult to prevent the impending destruction of the foundations of music.


  1. Hmmm... I'm kind of opposed here, little brother. (Before I go any further, please note I am listening to Pentamics as I write.) It sounds like an elderly vintage car enthusiast insisting that NASCAR being abolished would do good things for him. That's just disconnected reasoning.

    It's called "pop" music because it's popular. That means it resonates with a large portion of the society, and in this particular case, upwards of ninety percent. Pop, rock, jazz, country, hip hop, R&B, and a host of other musical styles have their foundations in the Blues, and owe little to classical roots. It came about from guys strapping a wire to a broom handle, who had never heard a single classical composition in their lives.

    That's not to discount the importance of classical composers, even modern 20th Century guys, but the latter has even less notability when it comes to music that appeals to modern culture. Blues-rooted music is simpler, and therefore appeals to a much wider range of personalities.

    Classical music tends to be focused on esoteric audiences, which is perfectly fine, but those on that side should recognize that it's the world they have chosen to live in. It's fairly exclusive and tends to appeal to upper-middle class male WASP folks. It's complex, brilliant, and requires effort to appreciate. It doesn't reflect the personality types of the large majority of the masses.

    Like it or not, the vast amount of funding will go toward the endeavors which will produce the highest financial benefit. That's just good old capitalism. The real problem we're facing with music education is that it's mostly directed by people in the classical spectrum, and there is little tie-in between popular music and education.

    As an educator of music that is almost solely focused on blues-based pop music, I can tell you that the demand and interest is exceedingly high. Students come to me because they cannot get what they want at the University level, at least not without an enormous monetary investment and time commitment. If universities offered programs for musical instruction that ignored classical needs like reading standard notation and memorizing the circle of fifths, and rather just taught people to play music they like on instruments that are practical, then there would be an explosion of interest, and therefore funding, for the musical programs.

    An example of this, back to your sports analogy, is the fact that, like it or not, there would probably not be a women's basketball program at UK if not for the overwhelming success of the men's program. It's not about whether that's right or wrong, it's just a fact.

    In that vein, I submit that a strong, successful pop music program flourishing in the public school system and especially in universities would generate tons of income, and much of it would then be directed to the other classical programs that are in dire need of it, but incapable of appealing to a broad enough audience to justify the expenses they need.

    So don't fight and scorn the pop music empire. Work with it. It's all music, and the more of it there is in the world, the better off we'll all be.

  2. THE FOLLOWING WAS WRITTEN BY JAMES D. REED, but, as a computer genius, he was incapable of figuring out how to post here. So I'm doing it for him:

    There will still be conservatories and orchestras in London and New York capable of playing any symphonic piece. The "foundations of music and our society" are safe, even if the economy dictates that only larger metropolitan areas can support academic music performed as entertainment. I am thinking that the foundations just might be safe regardless.

    During the first month of the public performance Beethoven's 9'th symphony, a few hundred people at the Kärntnertortheater heard it. Millions worldwide, however, were listening to cultural folk music in pubs, at weddings, funerals, parties, and military marches. And they liked it. It moved them just as much as the audience in Vienna was moved. Mothers cried their eyes out when hearing the first few notes of the song signalling their baby boy becoming a man.

    I have heard a million arguments bemoaning the fact that non-academics do not acknowledge the grand superiority of orchestral music to folk (non-academic) music which was written specifically for non-academics. The arguments are all inherently flawed in that they place an utterly nonexistent objective measure of "betterness" on music. No song ever written is in any objective way "better" than any other song. Lady Gaga's last song is as "good" as the best Aaron Copeland piece.

    Four-minute radio marketables meant to make a buck for an artist are more popular than 150-year-old orchestral pieces. They are more popular because they were MEANT to be more popular. They are culturally-specific, and crafted to be as popular as popular. Dare I suggest there is artistry in crafting suchpopular music?

    A nonacademic will not notice, nor will they particularly care about contrapunctual movement in a 150-year-old, 30-minute instrumental. Sure, they may find the music pleasant, but it will never be as popular as music tailored to their interests and life.

    Regarding people as the unwashed, ignorant herd because they don't care about orchestration in their music is no different than a plumber arrogantly imagining that people are idiots for not appreciating the best way to vent a commode, or a skateboarder imagining that people are idiots for not knowing who makes the best boards. Academics require give-a-damn. An academic pursuit of the arts requires a whole heap of give-a-damn, which unfortunately leads the enthusiast to imagine they have some superiority to those who couldn't care less. They are wrong.

    We are talking about JUST MUSIC after all.

    Heh... Any immediate response anybody has to my "just music" comment will involve defending the importance of music culturally, and a recitation of the cultural changes wrought by music. Only, not one argument will reference an orchestral piece. To defend the importance of music, culturally, you gotta whip out the pop.

  3. I actually don't think pop music should be abolished. That was just a joke. They both need to exist, but the fact of the matter is that classical music will be gone in a decade at the rate its going.

  4. Relax, Peter - classical music isn't going anywhere. I'm a few years older than you (shut up, Paul) and I've been hearing of the demise of classical music since I can remember. It's no more "fact" now than it was then.

    They said the same thing about blues, jazz, country, rock, & rap.

    As an aside, Lady Gaga is just a bad example when singing the evils of non-classical musics. Started piano at 4 years old, active in music & acting throughout school, studied classical, jazz, & pop forms, gained early admission into the Tisch School of the Arts (NYU), blah, blah, blah. VERY talented young lady with a strong educational background in the arts.

    Similar stories for other pop artists from Paul McCartney & Mick Jagger to Eddie Van Halen & Freddie Mercury to Taylor Swift & Katy Perry.

    Most of the pros I've had the pleasure of working with over the years are much more "schooled" (formally or not) & talented than they ever get credit for.

  5. What is Justin Biebers background in music?