Thursday, March 30, 2017
Some thoughts about modern music. . .
Symphonies spend a portion of their time introducing our ears to new music. A month or so ago, we sat through 35 minutes of the most tedius, boring, and nonsensical music I have ever heard. I thought it was just me but my wife also admitted to have stopped listening a few minutes into the piece. The program notes indicated that the composer was inspired by a night spent with the Disney Concert Hall pipe organ in LA -- exploring the sounds he could create from the stoplist. Cearly, the extensive resources of the symphony strings, winds, and percussion sections were added to the organ in pursuit of sound. Not music. Sound. It was one of the very few occasions I wish I had chosen another concert to attend.
It occurs to me how much modern music so perfectly reflects our modern thinking. It is not ordered nor does it proceed toward a goal. It appears to have no road map and so it seems like a meandering journey without beginning or ending. Much modern music seems intent upon rejecting the past and presuming that atonal and non-melodic sounds are more eloquent or noble than the classic forms that once accompanied great occasions and childhood cartoons -- with equal success!
Our lack of clear thinking has shown up in the minds of composers who like to hear things more than compose musical forms. I am happy that in a hundred years, Deo volente, we will still be hearing Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms but not this tedius and forgettable piece by a composer whose name I have already forgotten. Music that lives on is music that lives by the strength of its ideas -- just like great literature!
We do not teach grammar well, so our people struggle to speak and to communicate what they think. We do not teach debate or composition well, so our people do not think clearly or develop linear arguments that lead somewhere. We do not teach great literature well (preferring diversity over eloquence) and so our people are not well versed in the literature that has shaped and formed our past (but seems destined to remain silent as make our way around our murky future).
Much modern music is but a mirror of our own cultural wasteland in which greatness is less important that other values we have esteemed higher. So we go into art museums and wonder what it was that we saw (since it looked like what a child might do on a canvas floor with a whole parcel of paint). We go into libraries more intent upon borrowing a movie or cheap and trashy novels than the dusty great works of yesterday and wonder why it is all so dull and forgettable. And I go to the symphony hall more thankful for a few minutes of a transcription of a Buxtehude organ piece for orchestra than the rest of the program which was but noise in our ears. I guess I really have become a curmudgeon!