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Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 28 Feb 2005 16:11:30 -0600
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Deryk Barker, replying to James Tobin:

>>More or less at the same time there was an article in Harpers or the
>>Atlantic which shocked me by its (then new) multicultural claims that
>>classical music was simply one of several musical traditions, none of
>>which were better or more privileged than any other.  Not the notion
>>I was brought up on.
>Indeed and, I submit, absolute drivel.  Isn't it strange that the whole
>"world music" movement seems to have elevated every *other* form of music
>above what we might loosely call western classical music.

This thread has raised all sorts of questions for me.  The first: Is
there any value to classical music or to serious art in general to make
it worth pursuing and pumping for?  There are those who believe that
Everything Passes and that what's happening to classical music is natural
and will, with the right set of attitudes, be "just as good" as the
classical canon.  To me, it resembles the same attitude that ignores
literature not only before 1900, but before the Second World War, or
that abandons serious reading in classrooms for "communication arts,"
what we used to call creative writing, that allows kids with no real
experience and no encounter with serious thinking to express themselves.
I'm not against self-expression, God knows, but I do question the value
of one without the other.

This is all scarily reminiscent of one of the ideas I hated most from
the Sixties: we should learn only what is Relevant to our lives.  I hated
it because "relevance" was so fuzzily defined.  It seemed to mean, back
then, only those things that could help us earn a living or get us to
vote The Right Way - in short, indoctrination from the corporation and
certain elements of the Body Politic.  It's a bad policy that leads to
intellectual and, I submit, moral and ethical shallowness.  Classical
music in general has no immediate value.  That is, Picasso could paint
a house as well as a masterpiece.  Robert Frost could write a grocery
list as well as a poem.  I can't think of a utilitarian equivalent for
music, other than military bugle calls.

Essentially, we're losing the past - not just the horrors of the past,
but the wisdom of the past as well.  The culture seems to grow increasingly
inane, because learning and teaching, for most of us, take work and force
us to overcome the resistance of what-is-not-us to understanding.  We're
losing the past because it has come to represent disagreeable work to
keep it, rather than a pleasure in knowing the best that humans have
produced.  To pursue an analogy from Mortimer Adler: Knowledge is like
good, rich milk.  You can educate, broadly speaking, in one of two ways:
you can give students the best milk to each student's capacity - some
would take a full glass, some half a glass, and so on - or you can serve
everybody the same amount of inferior, watered-down milk.  Is the entire
past wonderful?  Most likely, no.  However, we seem to be limiting
ourselves for no good reason.  We're not making a well-considered choice,
but pursuing temporary comfort.

Steve Schwartz