Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Respecting our Elders

I was listening to a kid play a Bach fugue the other day and wondered, “Is the pain my ears right now similar, worse or equal to running ten-grit sand paper across my crotch?” id est not positive.  Once my speculation of the depths of physical and aural pain abated I wondered more poignantly, “Why the hell would anyone make a kid learn a Bach fugue anyway?”

In the course of my study of music I feel certain that I never would have landed on Bach as a composer of interest unless I was prompted by my teachers.  Much like I never would have read To Kill a Mockingbird if an English teacher hadn’t made me.  Are we better people--truly more well rounded--or in some cases more proficient at our trade because we know the history behind it?  

Bach was brilliant, but no one other than academicians and other learned musicians can really understand that.  That’s not to say that the music should be neglected for the base level enjoyment that others may get from it, but in a recital there are ‘people in the know’ and ‘everyone else’ and at all times I would say 90% of the audience would rather hear Scarlatti if you had to do something Baroque on the keyboard.  That’s not to write off Scarlatti as pulp fiction because Bach did many things in the same vein, but it certainly is more immediately assessable and more “easy listening.”  If an ensemble were to do Vivaldi’s Four Season’s one night and Bach’s Musical Offering the next, which concert would be in greater demand?  I’d have to work myself up for the latter…  Not to convey my preferences in music as factually better than other things, but Jane Doe would need a primer to even begin to follow the Musical Offering, and even then she’d be spending all of her time looking for landmarks on a roadmap comprised of nothing but street signs as opposed to busting a most righteous nut and enjoying the music.  

Is anyone a better reader, or writer, because they read Ernest Gaines, and William Faulkner in high school?  I often feel that the so called classics do more to stunt interest in a given field than promote it.  This is a rare time when I’m not going to talk about the exceptions.  A lot of fuss is made over the declining interest in reading in today’s youth.  Maybe if we put what ever book Peter Straub just sold millions of in 15-year-old Johnny's hands as opposed to The old man in the sea kids wouldn’t be turned off to reading so much.  

Everybody likes Straub (or the author of your choice).  Hemingway is an acquired taste; kinda like Bach.  Somethings are further enjoyed with a little more maturity and no I’m not going to make a wine analogy.  (Or did i?)  It took me some time before I started to seek out more substantial works of literature and put down the “commercial fiction.”  Now, I don’t read Pushkin and Plutrach all day but I do have much higher standards of quality in my commercial fiction than I did in years past.

I think drinking makes the point the best: when you first get your feet wet you don’t really pay attention to the quality of what you’re drinking: it all taste like furniture polish in the beginning and the resulting feeling is little different.  As time passes and the more well versed you become you refine your taste, develop preferences and while you may not always go for top-shelf booze, you’re acutely aware of drinks made with Skol, McCormick and their “well liquor” brethren.

Give people what they want: get ‘em hooked, get ‘em interest; in time if they stay with a given interest long enough and truly enjoy what they are doing they will turn to the classics on their own. 

The video gaming culture--a new way of being--has the best grasp on this matter.  Gamers don’t start with the old school, rather they play what is popular right now; as time passes their interest turn to ‘history’ and the sadistically difficult, 2D games of a now past “generation.”  

I’m all for respecting our Elders, learning from them and giving them their due props, but lets leave them where they belong: the past.


Anonymous said...

Do you really think most amateurs would prefer Scarlatti to Bach? I think it depends on the piece. If you're talking about the WTC, then yes I agree. The WTC was an academic venture, a study. It's a rite of passage for keyboard students; the student, music recital equivelant to To Kill a Mockingbird in high school literature cursus.

However Jane Doe will enjoy the suites, concerti and masses as much as the next random piece.

That said, somethings should be created for the enjoyment of the trained ear (or eye, depending on the medium). Something for those who know their craft and want to dig deeeper, or just winks to those in the know. You probably agree on that point, so I can move on.

The question is anyway whether kids should study Bach fugues just because Bach whipped the fugue into total submission, or not. Should they do something just because they should?

I heard on NPR recently that schools are considering taking The Catcher in the Rye off of required reading lists because it's no longer pertinent to modern teenagers' lives. Part of me thinks that that goddamn sucks--I like that goddamn book. The other says, yeah it's about time for a change. The word "goddamn" doesn't shock anymore.


Chad Hull said...

WTC is a travesty to listen to, in my ears and I know what's going on. Catcher in the Rye, much like The WTC doesn't need to be forgotten, but it's hard to move forward and make progress when we are so firmly rooted in the past.