Thursday, March 30, 2017

Some thoughts about modern music. . .

As some of you may know, I am a supporter of classical music -- not in theory but in practice.  I belong to the Nashville Symphony.  The occasions when my wife and I attend the symphony are like mini vacations -- days of refuge and rejoicing amid the mundane of our ordinary lives.  Nearly every time we go, we come home refreshed and our hearts are as filled as our ears.  But not always.

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!


ErnestO said...

In my day we had to walk fifteen miles through the snow to get to school, uphill both ways!

Anonymous said...

Fr. Peters -

Greetings again in Christ.

It takes a lifetime to grasp, and never fully, God's gift of music, as it can carry the Gospel, or entertain and nourish our spiritual longing. As with fine wine, it takes much time to cultivate and learn to appreciate it. Prodigies are another matter, but even they understand the great power emanating from music, to be sure.

It does not make one a curmudgeon, to recognize fine music apart from the cacaphony of notes and sounds mashed together in seeking the unique in much modern. It only speaks to the immaturity of the composer, and his or her wrong thinking about the gift they behold or possess.

And intending to or not, you caused my thoughts to fly to matters liturgical, where Christ and the Heavenlies come down to listen to us, and Christ to literally bestow Himself upon us. The parallel and need for the fine chant and song and great hymns with which we worship the the Almighty, and the works of the great Christian composers, do not not speak of curmudgeons (hoary heads, perhaps), but an even deeper appreciation of a chance for our ears to hear the hints of eternal perfection and praise as we join with all the saints.

That does not happen overnight, either, and our years here are short. Imagines the symphonies in heaven - forever. Besides, there, you shall be forever young, no?

Rev. Jeff Baxter, Em.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters said, "It is not ordered nor does it proceed toward a goal." I have to beg to differ here. I think it does proceed toward a goal, the goal of confusion. It seeks to disorder our thoughts, to lead us straight to chaos. After all, it is MODERN!

Fr. D+

John Joseph Flanagan said...

We must admit that musical taste is related to undividual preferences, and there is a near endless variety of types available. It is hard to generalize and say all modern music is bad, or all symphonic styles are better. As for church music, we have so many lovely songs and hymns with God glorifying lyrics and wonderful melodies. We sing these during our services and will continue to do so. Even some more contemporary hymns, but not all, are worthwhile. I am a fan of country Gospel songs. They are plain and simple, and address the love of Christ and the grace of God in the lives of ordinary people.

tubbs said...

Music has been going down hill since the death of J.S. Bach.

Anonymous said...

I think you are on to something. It is impossible to pretend to play and/or sing well at a classical music concert. Modern pop music? Fake:

Pop music all sounds the same:

Anonymous said...

Fake news, fake entertainment. It is all fake.

Britney Spears' live microphone feed, isolated:

I am with you. Let's head to the symphony!