Monday, October 11, 2010
Musicspeak: Bach and Iron Maiden, part IIb
Imagine, if you will, that someone I just met finds out I am a writer and asks, "What do you write?"
"I write fiction."
"I write middle-grade and young adult fiction."
"I write research papers on mid-twentieth century analytical philosophers."
"I write romance."
"I write novels based on the characters from Star Wars and Star Trek: Next Generation."
"I write literary novels and short stories."
"I write about people who routinely experience strong premonitions of disasters before they occur."
How did you react? You don't have to tell me if you don't want to, but I'd love to have a sampling of what people think in reaction to these answers.
Some labels are benign: "fiction" for example. But some others carry heavier implications.
But here is the thing, just because I am not interested in reading about people who may be able to predict disasters with their psychic or other powers tells me nothing about the quality of the writing. In my old critique group was a writer whose writing I admired. He prefaced one of his new works sheepishly by telling us it was fan fiction. I didn't know what fan fiction meant at the time, and I didn't understand his attitude. In the same way, another member was always apologetic about her book being a romance. But these writers are good, no matter the genre, I enjoyed their stories.
So, back to the question of why use labels. I hope this is one answer: labels and categories help define what we do and help us make decisions. And it may even open the channel for further discussion. Say you like philosophy but don't care much for writing that characterizes Continental philosophy, you'd jump all over yourself to talk to this person about analytical philosophy. I wouldn't, but you may.
So what am I trying to say?
I am trying to say that labels are necessary, not adequate, but necessary, and that the main reason they fall short is the people hold many different kinds of opinions and prejudices, carefully examined or otherwise.
I am also trying to say that even though I focused on art music in my original post, I am not making a statement about its worth compared to other types of music. I focused on it because it is the kind of music that gives me joy, engages me mind and soul, and allows me to feel deeply. It expresses something I can relate to; it expresses something bigger than me; it expresses the emotions and lives of people who lived hundreds of years ago. And one reason I am able to reap such wonderful rewards, besides being given an innate attraction to it, is that I've had the privilege of being exposed to outstanding performances and of studying the music. Would I feel this way about this music had I not been given these gifts? Probably not.
I hope you'll tell me what you think, and come back for the next, and last installment of this exploration.