And not merely “Glories of the West” – the Glories of Christendom! East as well as West. Beautiful music, and a remarkable assemblage of magnificent European churches, in a variety of traditional styles. Lovely!
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.
Excerpt from Vivaldi’s “Summer,” from his incredible The Four Seasons. Berliner Philharmoniker: Herbert von Karajan, Conductor, and Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin soloist.
Traditional Irish step-dancing as it used to be practiced, before it became “cross-fertilized” with influences from Highland dancing, to ballet, to American clogging and tap – and probably a few more, to boot. Not that “Riverdance“-style Irish step-dancing isn’t absolutely amazing! It is. But I very much like to see old-style, from time to time.
Over the last 20 years, fewer people are learning how to read and compose music. What impact has that had on the music we listen to?
“Oh yes, we need a little Christmas, right this very minute:
Candles in the window, carols at the spinet!”
These famous lines, from the still-popular secular Christmas song “We Need a Little Christmas” (1966) are not just me longing for Christmas, in this steamy central Maryland August (although neither would I deny it), but an illustration of the linked essay‘s point: that although most people listening to it today probably gloss right over the line without a clue as to what is meant, the song would have been unlikely to contain those lyrics, if “carols at the spinet” (a once-popular type of small, drop-action piano) had not been an easily-recognizable feature of Christmas cheer at the time it was written.
It’s certainly recognizable to me! Born in 1965, the third and much the youngest of three brothers, I grew up with a “spinet” (actually a furniture console piano) in our home: one which my father had purchased for my mother years before – at a time when they were still struggling financially – because he knew how much music meant to her. Continue reading “The Tragic Decline of Music Literacy (and Quality) | Intellectual Takeout”
Thomas Arne’s song “Rule Britannia” was performed for the first time on this date, 159 years ago: August 1, 1740. Historic UK notes that
“The patriotic song ‘Rule, Britannia!, Britannia rule the waves’, is traditionally performed at the ‘Last Night of the Proms’ which takes place each year at the Royal Albert Hall.”
Ignoring certain historical inaccuracies , this is an awesome rendition by mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly!
Believe it or not, though I have liked Jethro Tull for many years (and passionately loved their album Songs from the Wood, which has been one of my favorites since late high school / early college days), I just listened seriously to this one, and read the lyrics, for the first time the night before last. Wow! I did not know what I was missing:
Let me find you a filly for your proud stallion seed
to keep the old line going.
And we’ll stand you abreast at the back of the wood
behind the young trees growing
To hide you from eyes that mock at your girth,
and your eighteen hands at the shoulder
And one day when the oil barons have all dripped dry
and the nights are seen to draw colder
They’ll beg for your strength, your gentle power
your noble grace and your bearing
And you’ll strain once again to the sound of the gulls
in the wake of the deep plough, sharing.
Standing like tanks on the brow of the hill
Up into the cold wind facing
In stiff battle harness, chained to the world
Against the low sun racing
Bring me a wheel of oaken wood
A rein of polished leather
A Heavy Horse and a tumbling sky
Brewing heavy weather.
Again, wow. Lifts the hair on the back of my neck! For someone who loves the great draft horses as I do, this is a deeply moving song. Magnificent!