Don’t get me wrong, there is a fair bit of “pop” music which I enjoy… in small-to-moderate doses. As Scruton himself notes, “there are distinctions of quality, even in the realm of pop” – and let’s face it, there are times when everyone wants a doughnut, or an ice cream cone, or maybe even cotton candy. Few of us can consume only healthy food, all the time, and the same is true of music. On the other hand, if one’s diet is made up primarily of junk food, one’s health will suffer; and that is true also in the musical realm.
What the late Sir Roger is objecting to, here, is the ubiquitous, all-pervasive nature of pop music in today’s society – much of it vapid, banal, and musically uninteresting, and some of it lyrically offensive – and the way in which (much as salt- and sugar-loaded junk food numbs the taste-buds of those who regularly consume it, until they can’t even enjoy more healthy fare) it numbs the listeners’ appreciation for higher-quality musical “cuisine.”
This matters for more than merely aesthetic reasons. It is remarkable the degree to which the music one listens to not only reflects, but helps to shape, the listener’s outlook on life, one’s worldview. I can speak to this from my own experience, as I made the conscious decision, in my 20s, to stop listening to most rock and pop music, because I did not like the headspace it was putting me into.
Now, one can argue the precise chicken-vs-egg connection between music reflecting and shaping a person’s subjective reality: suffice it to say that it serves both roles. And the fact remains that those who were rioting in Ferguson and Baltimore – to cite just two examples among many – were likely not listening to Bach and Beethoven, Handel and Vivaldi, Ralph Vaughan Williams or John Rutter, through their ear-buds as they trashed cars, burned refuse cans, broke windows, and beat up random bystanders.
These are extreme examples; but nonetheless, music matters. “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast,” as William Congreve noted in The Mourning Bride (1697), but it also has the ability to trouble a serene one. The kind of music with which we fill our ears, heads, and souls matters. And in this talk, Sir Roger explains the problem we are facing, as music of quality and distinction is supplanted by “pop.”
(He deals with the matter from an aesthetic perspective, as one would expect; but since this blog is concerned in large measure with the defense of the West – Western civilization, Western Christendom – against several breeds of savagery, I have pointed out its application to the challenges we are facing.)
Best of all, he doesn’t just complain: he sketches out a road-map for how one can re-program the neural pathways of the young, when it comes to music, making this discussion especially helpful for parents, teachers, and others who may be in a position to help shape the musical education of young people.