Monday, November 3, 2008

We are not snobs.

As I was reading the Hewett, of course putting it on top of my previous reading of Cook, it occurred to me how bitter I was getting from all our transparent assumptions and canons and all. I know our authors here have written these books out of a love for music; it goes without saying, which is why they do not emphasize it. Without it, however, it is rather easy to see the whole view as more destructive than constructive criticism. Cook has this optimistic view, but mostly explains it at the end. The point is to know why we think what we think rather than deplore everything we think. I have been reminding myself of this fact.

For one thing, transparent assumptions are inevitable. Seeing them or not seeing them is functionally moot, because they have to occur for society to exist. If we did not assume composers were more important than performers then we might assume the opposite or something completely different, but we would assume something nonetheless. Hewett talks about a Malian wedding song being a whole, where Westerners assume music to be made of separate parts, but the indivisibility of the Malian song is also a transparent assumption. The music is sound just like any music and could be broken apart or kept together just the same. It is simply important to be aware that these assumptions exist in order to broaden our ways of thinking.

My second consolation is that the existence of the "canon" is not actually a bad thing. None of our authors have told us to toss it out. It is simply a thing, and they want us to know why it exists and, even more importantly, how it exists. I see the canon as a good thing, in perspective. It gives us a history, something against which to understand ourselves. Beethoven made good stuff. He is not divine, and the point is to understand why we might think he is and to open ourselves up to the possibility there are other things out there.

None of these are new to you, I know, but articulating them makes me feel better about the life of classical music, both past and future.

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