Monday, September 10, 2012
A Vantage Point On A Timeless Scale
Towards the end of chapter one of Highbrow Lowbrow (a book in which the author, Lawrence W. Levine, demonstrates how recent are the cultural categories we have come to accept as matter-of-course), Levine concludes (in reference to the end of the nineteenth century), "Theaters, museums, symphonic halls, and parks were public places, they were meant to create an environment in which a person could contemplate and appreciate the society's store of great culture individually, anything that produced a group atmosphere, a mass ethos, was culturally suspect." I thought about this statement for quite a while, considering that the voice of culture at the time was that of wealthy donors, with interests primarily in promoting their status in society...their exclusivity. However, the question came to mind: Today's voice, the voice of the public, the popular voice, aren't they all preaching individuality? Any sub-culture in the United States, the sum of whom makes up the "popular" genre, came out of a movement whose sole identity rests in its contrast to the majority! The entire premise behind punk-rock is its political and anti-establishment tone and message- in other words, anti-mainstream. Genres such as Rock n' Roll and Punk Rock are considered predominantly white genres of music while rap and hip-hop are particularly black dominated. Why is it that white audiences don't find rap and hip-hop inaccessible? The question must be asked considering the multitude of historic and cultural undertones lining the overall experience of the genre. Music has to be lived to be understood. If you haven't lived in a ghetto, how can you possibly share in the expression of that experience through music? Consider Rock music. Rock has served as "a vehicle for a multitude of political and social movements those including mods and rockers in the UK and the ‘hippie’ counterculture that spread out from San Francisco in the US in the 1960s. Similarly, 1970s punk culture spawned the visually distinctive Goth and Emo subcultures. Inheriting the folk tradition of the protest song, rock music has been associated with political activism as well as changes in social attitudes to race, sex and drug use, and is often seen as an expression of youth revolt against adult consumerism and conformity." [source: wikipedia on Rock music]. What do all of these genres have in common? Accounting for individuality, there is something in addition: these genres are all relevant to current social mindsets and political opinion. In that sense, I understand the common viewpoint that classical music might be a bit outdated. However, assuming one identifies with a given sub-culture and therefore identifies with one [or more] out of many groups: youths, blacks, whites, rebels, etc. How will these groups ever identify with the rest of humanity? Where is the expression of the citizen of the world? With so many different lenses through which to see the world, how will we ever sympathize with each other's point of view? The answer: by viewing the world of the past from a shared vantage point; that of the present. The Classical genre is a way of looking upon the musical thought and expression of the human condition from a removed vantage point. In this way, Classical music can serve as a pure study, a medium through which individuals can place themselves in context, on a timeless scale. Consider this, could it be that our removal from the politics of the classical century has given us more insight into the music itself? Perhaps if we lived during the time of Beethoven, the sentiment, the voice behind his composition would be too commonplace to really be heard? Perhaps, it is because of, not in spite of, our global perspective on Wagner (for instance) and the mass cultural extremism it inspired that's shakes us. If Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time was performed at a concentration camp, do you think its reception was as profound in the minds of those individuals fearing for their lives, or perhaps our current reception is more profound, being able to look back on the event from a distant vantage point and seeing the extent of the damage? I believe that Classical music is the music of the future. And soon, Pop, Emo, Hip-hop, Rap, Rock, etc. will join it. Returning to individuality, can we ever really understand ourselves without context? Will we ever know if we married the right person until we find ourselves hand-in-hand fifty years later? Will we ever know we made history until we become history? Music is an expression of us, not just as blacks or whites in 21st-century America but as a generation among generations, a country among countries, a day among days in the long history of humanity on this planet.