Monday, October 27, 2008

What music does...

Of all the many challenging ideas Nicholas Cook puts forth in Music: A Very Short Introduction, the one that keeps turning over in my head is this idea of looking at what music does, not merely what it represents. That music can actually be a force in the world, that it can change things, is revolutionary but at the same time, it seems so self-evident! Does anyone else have that feeling? Like the truth has been there all along, we’ve just distracted ourselves with other things?

Here is something that speaks to me of this perspective. What do you you think?

Community Musicworks
– A string quartet has taken up permanent residence in the middle of Providence and offers free music lessons. More so than just lessons, everything they do is with the intention of weaving this center of music-making into the community, not something set apart. They do this by hosting performance group/potlucks where they gather together over food and music. I am also told they broadcast their rehearsals over loud speakers into the street.

Here is a FANTASTIC article Alex Ross wrote about CM (go to the last half of the article):

Below are links to CM’s home page and a particularly telling blog entry. Notice in the blog posting the location of the concert – it ain't no musical museum, that's for sure!

1 comment:

VER said...

I've been a bit remiss in reading the blog lately, so I'm only just now getting caught up on what people have written. I was extremely intrigued by the Community MusicWorks and read through Alex Ross' article.

One quote particularly resonated with me. Founding member Sebastian Ruth is explaining why he believes classical music has power to reach people living in poverty, worlds away from the time and place it was written. He explains that he's doing it partly for himself: "Because there's something so bleak about a performing career these days... You are in this tight, closed-off world. You are playing generally at very expensive concerts for people who can afford it, and who are already steeped in it. You fight the feeling that it's not real."

I've been fighting that feeling for years as I've tried to decide whether or not music is truly the field I want to go into. I've been particularly disillusioned of late, as I become more aware of the attitudes that have shaped classical music in America in the past 200 years: so many of our beliefs about music seem inherited from very ethnocentric and/or classist ideas- western music is inherently superior, and its role is to uplift the masses from their impoverished state.

Granted, we've come a long way from these ideas, but we still see echos in the attitudes Levine describes in Highbrow/Lowbrow. It's hard for me to reconcile the exclusivity and occasional- let's face it, frequent- snobbery of the classical music world with my desire to bring about a more just society where all people are treated with value. I have been struggling to articulate to myself how exactly a career that would keep me locked away in a practice room and performing primarily for fairly well-off audiences would allow me to do that.

It was quite refreshing to hear Ruth's perspective and see a very practical example of musicians who are simultaneously connecting with their community and performing at a high level. Perhaps it is possible after all.