My musicspeak post last week provoked a lively conversation that has made me think all week. Some of the reactions seem to indicate that the topic has touched on something more than just the discussion of art music.
Here are the unspoken assumptions that underlie the post:
- that there are different groups of art;
- that it is meaningful to separate those groups.
One assumption not present in my post:
- that some art forms are better than others.
we look at established labels and exclaim: what do Rembrandt and Kandinsky, or a Vivaldi concerto and the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra have in common?
Here was when I found John Steinmetz's definition helpful. Unfortunately, I left out an important part. And it's this:
Experience and knowledge, yes, but paying attention is an even more important aspect.
Art music requires the listener to pay attention
Let me back up a little and address the question of why it is meaningful to have labels. Why not just say: here is a whole slew of music, enjoy? My take is that there is simply too much available, and without some sort of a classification system, we'd feel lost. Sure labels can lead us astray, but they are a convenient and often helpful way for us to navigate our lives.
And maybe it's not possible for humans not to label. Just think for a moment all the ways we categorize things and people in our lives. These categories are likely inexact or inadequate in some ways, and they can result in all sorts of meaningless and even harmful generalities. But is it really possible that we don't mentally separate foods into healthy/unhealthy, or people as those you trust your children with and those you don't?
Here is another example of why I use labels. When someone asks me what kind of musician I am, I tell them I am a pianist and an orchestral percussionist. In their minds, they know that by percussion, I mean instruments such as these:
and yes, this:
and am likely to perform in a venue like this:
standing around with these fellow percussionists:
They would probably not conjure up this image:
or ask me where I usually gig, which they may if I had just said I was a percussionist. (Nope, can't play the drum set at all. Maybe I'll take lessons one day. But it will have to come after lessons in jazz singing and bass guitar.)
I am sure you already some responses to what I've written so far and I'd love to hear them. And please come back for the continuation of this exploration. Tomorrow, I'd like to invite you to imagine some scenarios with me, to discover the responses you may have to different answers to this question:
"So, what do you write?"