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Big Brother Is Listening

Word came across the transom the other week of a new website called “musoc.org.” Its aggressive stance is that classical music is simply better than other forms of music. Actually, it maintains that other forms of music aren’t music at all.

The site isn't altogether without merit; I like its lists (to be updated monthly) in the “Campaign for the Recognition of Neglected Classics,” which includes twenty works written in the last fifty years that it feels have been insufficiently recognized, and “Classics of Contemporary Art Music."

But statements like “Art Music is in many ways objectively superior to Pop ‘Music’” (note the quotes) make me grit my teeth and want to play Talking Heads albums really, really loudly. And this, from the FAQ, is just stupid: “The ‘music’ is melodically, harmonically, rhythmically, structurally, texturally, dynamically, thematically and conceptually barren compared to Art Music; it's also spiritually and politically shabby by comparison. It's short, trite and highly repetitive.” One is tempted to order a copy of Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue" for the site's editors, just for starters, but one wouldn’t know where to send it. Indeed, there’s something vaguely creepy about musoc's deliberate anonymity, which is evidently part of its philosophy, though there are limits to how much an audience will care about what a website says if one doesn’t know who’s writing it.

Of course, classical music (or "Art Music," to use musoc's terminology) includes some of the world's great masterpieces. But it is also responsible, like any field, for some singularly vapid outpourings. And the idea that one kind of music is a priori better than another leads to indefensible cultural demagoguery. If you follow this argument to its logical conclusion, a bad recording of a second-rate Donizetti opera has more artistic merit than "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" or "Mingus Ah Um." Classical music fans are fond of taking refuge on a putative high ground: "we're better, and everybody who doesn't understand us is an idiot." The ignorance of that stance is off-putting to anyone with a genuine ear; and there's no better way to ensure the failure of the field than that.

By Anne Midgette  |  July 2, 2009; 9:30 AM ET
Categories:  music on the Web , random musings  
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Comments

Your post about Musoc.org draws me back to my thoughts about critics and their relationship with audiences -- mainly, that audiences tend to discount critics' opinions as being elitist. Musoc apparently rebels against that tendency by wholeheartedly embracing elitism, but in the process it has adopted indefensible prejudices that you quite rightly ridicule.

Posted by: robertcostic | July 2, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

I think the web site is silly, but I also think it reflects the way a lot of classical music people feel. Being someone who refuses to close the door on the riches available in the rainbow of music genres, I find such an attitude to be one of the most off-putting aspects of the classical demimonde. But I also try to give people the benefit of the doubt and ascribe the lack of interest in non-classical genres to some benign impluse.

Posted by: kashe | July 2, 2009 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Any doubts I may have had about this site's authoritarian intent were quickly dispelled when I saw this on their FAQ page:

§5 To campaign for the illegalisation of all Pop 'Music' (i) in public and work places which aren't licensed music entertainment venues, and (ii) used in children's television and other media

(i) Everyone should have the right to walk down the street or visit public amenities or business premises without having to endure the noise of other people's hi-fis, TVs or personal stereos, or the crassness and blare of modern Pop radio. Private gardens and public and private vehicles should also be subject to strict noise nuisance regulations.

(ii) Programme-makers and advertisers should be banned from the cynical use of the simple rhythms of Pop 'Music' to grab children's attention and over time hook them onto the 'music' and associated culture, thereby priming them for an adult lifestyle centred on consumerism.

Posted by: bobkingston | July 2, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Phil Kennicott has comments in the current Opera News relevant to this thread.

Posted by: kashe | July 2, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

It is obvious that some folks do not acknowledge that music, like any other art form, includes a valid popular version as well as a profoundly deep, artistic side and every shade in between. Thier purpose and goals may be different, but what they convey can be equally rich in meaning and affect. A gourmet six-course meal has its place as well as a hot dog. Both satisfy in different ways. Penderecki and Prince both have their say. Viva la difference!

Posted by: whiterhino | July 2, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse

It seems some folks do not acknowledge that music, like any other art form, has a valid popular side as well as a deeply artistic version. Both are rich in meaning and affect. A hot dog can be as satisfying as a six-course gourmet meal in the right circumstances. Penderecki and Prince both have something to say. Viva la difference!

Posted by: whiterhino | July 2, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Ummm.....

http://www.soundsandfury.com/soundsandfury/2009/07/is-it-for-real-or-for-good-natured-skewering.html

ACD

Posted by: ACDouglas1 | July 3, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for drawing our attention to this site, Anne.

I took a look: it's about time!

Some of those eager to spend 5 mins looking, and then writing the whole thing off seem to be missing one of musoc's main points.

Namely that art music (however you define it) truly embraces all aspects of human experience and has done so for at least 1500 years in ways in which 'pop' simply can't - an apt analogy would be Keats vs a nursery rhyme.

With globalisation and the homogenisation of culture that the former relies on to generate capital 'pop' was born somewhere in the last century. Art music became marginalised. The juggernaut of the impoverished wailing and banging of 'pop' (and the rest) moved into the mainstream.

BUT AT THE EXPENSE OF ART MUSIC as witness the almost unbelievable adulation of the late Michael Jackson, someone whose skill-set I have yet to identify.

Good for musoc's author(s?): they have begun the slow clawback of defining and exposing the differences between art music and 'pop': the two are doing different things. Let's acknowledge that and stop trying the elevate the latter to the status of the former.

Posted by: LouisFurther | July 3, 2009 8:15 PM | Report abuse

Banning things that bring people pleasure is not how we do things in our free society. Think about it: do we ban cigarettes, snuff, alcohol, or sugary soft drinks? Heck no, we TAX THEM (or in the case of soft drinks, propose to).

So let business establishments continue to play pop music as a way of enticing the public and young minds in particular. Just charge them a tax for doing so.

[Insert Smiley Face here]

Posted by: shovetheplanet | July 4, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

> So let business establishments continue to play pop music as a
> way of enticing the public and young minds in particular.

With respect, your logic is flawed. To promote/allow noise pollution like this is equivalent to 'banning' (preventing) those who find it troubling from experiencing peace and quiet

Posted by: LouisFurther | July 4, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Not for me to say that there are no other types of music worth listening to. And indeed, I ocasionally listen to jazz, folk music, or Argentine tangos. Plus my wife - who, God Bless her, often comes with me at concerts or opera (though I slowly learned not to push the envelope; no Meistersinger for example) - listens to such stuff as Brazilian music (e.g. Daniela Mercury) or pop hits of the 70s and 80s. So I am at least exposed to a variety of music, some of which I enjoy, most of which I am indiferrent to or worse. But even those pieces that I enjoy never produce the same emotional effect as the masterpieces of classical music, or even lesser works; if I am asked whether I prefer to listen to say Guy Ropartz or Olivia Newton-John I would take Ropartz without thinking twice (btw, I find Ropartz' symphonies to be well written and not without felicities.) Indeed, my reaction after listening to pop music often is: "thank you very much; now, of you will pardon me, I have lots of (classical music) listening to do and life is short."

Having said that, I find sites like musoc to be extremists and not worth the time. Not that classical music is without this type of extremities (e.g. baroque music should be played ONLY on period instruments) but this is something for another time.

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | July 6, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

I can't imagine how much poorer my life would be without pop music in it as well as classical music. There are so many things that classical music, at least as presently practiced, cannot do; the idea of having to choose between the two is ridiculous. I don't understand the impulse to promote one type of music as being superior to all others, and I think classical music as a whole would be healthier if it had more dialogue going with pop.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | July 6, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

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