Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Joy of Being Insignificant

There are unexpected consequences to classical music being relatively inconsequential in the contemporary world. Sure, I know that most of the time we, and I, complain about them bitterly, how classical music should be more prominent, more appreciated, how everyone should be taking music lessons. But just between us, sometimes I heave a sigh of relief at NOT being so visible in the 21st century world. Let me explain why...

Here is a story about how the time and energies of scientists is too much devoted to administrative busy work:
Faculty members in the sciences spend too long on burdensome administrative work, at the expense of their other, more meaningful duties, argues a report out today from the National Science Board. The report, called "Reducing Investigators’ Administrative Workload for Federally Funded Research," is based on the work of the board's Task Force on Administrative Burdens, which asked professors to identify through roundtable discussions and requests for information which federal and internal university procedures and requirements were the biggest drains on their time. Financial management, the grant proposal process, progress reports, institutional review boards, and layers of oversight related to working with animals all were common responses.
There is even a blog, Suffocated Science, devoted to this sort of problem. This is a case of science being a victim of its own success. So much of the innovative technology of our world is based on science that being a scientist is now loaded down with big budget expectations. Not only that, but science becomes a political football as well. I don't want to get too off-topic, but I think that one example of science in an unholy marriage with politics is the whole anthropogenic global-warming kerfuffle which currently seems to be coming apart at the seams as Nature fails to cooperate with the politically-inspired narrative. Though I notice that some people seem to have gotten very rich out of it.

Success in the modern world seems to be so imbricated with mere greed that it is tempting to cast a jaundiced eye at all of it. Look at the music business: is there much that is really enjoyable in successful pop music these days?

Or even in the most successful classical music?

I just find all this kind of thing to resemble more than anything else, attempts to beat music into submission. Music as kind of a victim of someone's greed and hunger for celebrity.

So, in an odd sort of way, the relative obscurity of classical music, the real stuff that is, is kind of a blessing. We can play and listen to it a bit apart from the hectic insanity of what appears to be normal 21st century life. If I am not getting rich from it, then I am not going to be hounded by the media, audited by the IRS or Revenue Canada, urged by soulless record executives to sully the music just a bit more and so on. As Thomas Gray wrote:
Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenour of their way.
Even a nice musical metaphor there.

Here is a refreshingly amateurish video of the late Gustav Leonhardt conducting an excerpt from Bach's cantata BWV 30:


Rickard Dahl said...

I think that it could work if classical music would be popular, however, only if people would recognize the difference between good and bad (i.e. for instance between Lang Lang and a better pianist). But the more marketty approach, i.e. Lang Lang et. al. would probably win. Plus there would be musicians writing bad music that barely can be classified as classical (new age, crossover and the like) and market it as classical to make money. Unless once again, people would be able to tell the good from the bad.

Bryan Townsend said...

Classical music was pretty popular a hundred years ago, but I'm almost convinced that people are a lot dumber now!

What amazes me is that people just don't notice how vulgar so much of the music they listen to is. Like the first two videos above. Do people not have any sensitivity to vulgarity any more?

Rickard Dahl said...

Yes, true that it was more popular back then. It may be true that people are dumber but I think society has also gone in a totally wrong direction morally and culturally (although thankfully there are people who talk about these issues, I think you do in the case of music at least). I think you said something similar in another post.

Yes the pop music in this case is quite vulgar at least. And Lang Lang's interpretation sounds way off (not that I'm so familiar with the piece but it still sounds wrong). I don't think there are many vulgar examples of classial music outside of maybe some of the extreme-modernist kind and wrong interpretations. Sure it could be argued that Offenbach, Strauss the younger, Rossini etc. have many (?) examples of vulgar classical music but it's still well-written music (unlike pop music in general) and is purposedly vulgar (unlike pop music where the vulgarity is pretty much a default approach but not recognized as such). I guess people have gotten so used to the vulgarity of pop music that it no longer seems vulgar.