Monday, March 9, 2015

Be Bold!

This is a bit of a follow-up on yesterday's Bill Murray post. When I found the link, on the Instapundit site I immediately left a comment: "We could all be like this if we just stopped being driven by fear and greed." To which Glenn replied "True. Though it helps to be rich and famous in terms of overcoming fear and greed. . . ." But there is a flaw in that logic, I think. There are lots of rich and famous people who don't act anything like Bill Murray, who display all the signs of being driven by fear and greed. And there are people who are not at all rich and famous, who do in fact behave a bit like Bill Murray: spontaneous, unaffected and so on.

I think that Bill Murray has some of the ancient virtues: courage, wisdom, justice and moderation. Sure, he is just a comic actor, but whatever you do in life, unless you are a professional executioner for Boko Haram, does not prevent you from exercising these virtues.

What has provoked this followup post is another article I just read about an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art devoted to Björk. In it there is this interesting passage:
Of all the visual delights and exotica on display at the Museum of Modern Art’s Bjork exhibition—androgynous robot sex, canoodling with snakes in the rain forest, and the famous Alexander McQueen “Pagan Poetry” dress with its drafty upper reaches—perhaps the most quietly shocking was the visual presence of actual music. Yes, printed music, pasted on the walls where visitors queue to enter the multimedia “Songlines” galleries, and also on the covers of the multiple catalog inserts.
Only if you’ve spent too much time watching the agonies of classical music institutions try to adapt to dwindling audiences will the presence of written or printed music be surprising. I can’t remember the last time I saw an excerpt of actual music—with ledger lines, key signatures, rests and notes—in a mainstream book about classical music, or in a program note at a symphonic concert or almost any other context where classical musicians actually make music. This has all been banished. The visual presence of music—except rarely as a fuzzy decorative background over which something else has been printed—is seen as off- putting, even terrifying to newcomers.
Yes, the classical music world has been exhibiting the opposite of the ancient virtues lately: instead of courage, cowardice, instead of wisdom, foolishness. Let's just focus on those as the other two virtues would take us too far afield. Classical music institutions today have a
destructive lack of self confidence that so often plagues orchestras, opera companies and even chamber ensembles today. To demonstrate that their music is not too complicated, not too scary, not too demanding, classical musicians have chosen to hide much of what goes on in the background
In other words, they are both cowardly and condescending in thinking that the people who attend classical music concerts would be alienated by seeing some actual music notation. The real aesthetic strengths of classical music, and those which make it more aesthetically substantial than pop music, even the eccentric pop music of Björk, are in fact that it is sometimes complicated, sometimes scary, often demanding and yes, beautiful, transcendent and a whole bunch of other things. It is an artform whereas pop music often resembles sausage-making.

So I say to classical musicians, stop being fearful and be bold. Be strong and confident because you can and you should. Do what you do with no apology and no shame. Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid (as someone said, but I forget who)!

This is the first movement of the Symphony No. 4 by Dmitri Shostakovich, which I think proves all my points?

UPDATE: Just a little footnote to the above.  Aristotle in his Nichomachean Ethics uses the principle of moderation extensively. For example, courage is actually a middle course between, on the one hand, cowardice, and on the other, recklessness. Pick your hill to fight on, not to die on! And the Shostakovich Symphony No. 4 is a good example. It was his first new symphony in nine years and would have been a major advance in his style. But the orchestra was struggling technically and just before the scheduled premiere, the infamous denunciation of Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District appeared in Pravda. It would have been extremely risky to have gone ahead with the premiere so Shostakovich withdrew the work and it was not premiered until 1961, long after Stalin had died. By "risky" I mean the possibility of either being secretly executed, as happened to a number of his friends, or simply being exiled to Siberia. So he withdrew the 4th and instead composed a new symphony, the 5th, designed to both exhibit his new style AND fulfil the demands of socialist realism. Courage, not recklessness.

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