Monday, July 25, 2011

The International Music Authority

Wouldn't it be interesting to have one? A bit like the International Atomic Energy Authority or the World Health Organization. Some UN-sponsored body that was looking out for us. You know, protecting us from bad music the way some politicians are trying to protect us from excess salt or too much pizza. I know what you are thinking, "silly blogger, doesn't he know that things like the dangers of salt intake are scientific fact, but music is all just frothy subjective opinion?" I hate to rock the boat, but it turns out that all that scientific 'proof' about salt should be, uh, taken with a grain of salt. Here is the august Scientific American weighing in:
This week a meta-analysis of seven studies involving a total of 6,250 subjects in the American Journal of Hypertension found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes or death in people with normal or high blood pressure. In May European researchers publishing in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the less sodium that study subjects excreted in their urine—an excellent measure of prior consumption—the greater their risk was of dying from heart disease. These findings call into question the common wisdom that excess salt is bad for you, but the evidence linking salt to heart disease has always been tenuous.
 Hmmm, I'm confused. You mean that this scientific stuff isn't always as solid as we thought? Well, maybe music isn't as frothy as you would think either. Let me share an anecdote. A few years ago I was sitting on the jury listening to the final performance exams of some students from the Quebec Conservatoire. Excellent institution, by the way. I was marking (out of 100) in company with another guitarist whom I had never met previously. We had both had a fair bit of experience with this sort of thing, though. The first student came out and played several pieces and when she was finished we looked at one another and said, almost in unison, "88!" And we agreed pretty closely on most of the other students as well.

You have to realize that a whole lot of what you think you know about music is hooey. Much of it is disseminated to promote particular artists or industries or sell newspapers or magazines. Little of it is accurate. A romantic view of everything is often useful in promoting new artists. They are all special little snowflakes who struggled against adversity/showed a special gift and have an almost mystical connection with the instrument/composer/audience. Ever read anything like that?

In reality, as I think we saw in the interpretation post, good playing by one artist is much like good playing by other artists. I know good playing when I hear it. And I know less good playing. I have been paid actual money on numerous occasions to judge playing at various levels. I'm not a bad judgmental person, it is just something that enough training and experience enables you to do.

Now, sure, I'm kidding about the International Music Authority. I'm sure we will never have one, issuing certificates of music safety and so on. Or rescuing helpless audiences from a tsunami of ill-judged aesthetic choices. I'd love to see it, though. An official walks onstage in the middle of an aria and stops the soprano: "I'm sorry, your phrasing has been determined to be unsafe for audiences at this level of exposure. The performance will have to end." Heh.

No, we will never have an IMA, nor do we need one. But that makes me wonder. Why do we have authorities trying to monitor salt intake? Why, Mayor Bloomberg, why? Funny thing, it turns out that there can be considerable political advantage to making us all run scared so the big strong Authority can rescue us. With music, we know it is ridiculous. Now if only we could figure out it is ridiculous with salt too...

No comments: