Monday, May 22, 2006

What makes great Music

Over at Townhall, Paul Jacob is taking on the problem or racism, or to be more frank, he's trying to argue that racism is no big deal and that Blacks can be racist too. And then he starts talking about music.
I'm more likely to listen to James Brown than Beethoven, but I'm not going to try to make the case that James Brown was the greater musician. The everyday values that determine our personal preference differ from our appreciation of greatness in art. And I don't let race have anything to do with my judgments of preference.

Or "greatness."

. . . Music evolved to greatness as a fine art tradition in Europe, not south of the Sahara or in the wilds of the Americas. That's just a fact. Most of the great composers - whom most of us don't listen to, anyway -were white Europeans.

The RZA and the Duke have written some amazingly good music, but I doubt if even they aspired to compose on the level of, say, Bach. Offenbach, maybe. To suggest a higher level of greatness takes quite a bit more chutzpah than I have.
Of course the question Jacob carefully fails to ask is "what does determine greatness." And the answer is largely "What old white guys have determined is great." That is to say Classical Music.

The truth is that Classical Music is dead music. It's been dead for a long time, which is why the bits that have stuck around look so good. It's as if some rogue medusa wandered through the garden of music and here and there petrified a piece of music here or there. It's fellow tunes long since decayed we can see this statue and forget that at one point it meant something. Instead we admire the marble finish, the solemn dignity of a piece that has "survived" through the ages.

I do appreciate Classical music, but I appreciate it for what it is. I suspect Jazz will go through the same process, although given the inherent liveliness of the music and the fact that we do have recordings of the original recordings, we probably won't end up with the same kinds of statues.

But if you consider the value of music to be it's ability to touch people, the ability to be meaningful in their lives, well Classical Music and Jazz both largely fail that test right now.

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