North Texas Objectivist Society (NTOS) Message Board › Why is Bach relevant?

Why is Bach relevant?

A former member
Post #: 43
I notice many people presume that since the meaning of music hasn't yet been objectively defined they use this as a license to listen to most anything.

If that is the case, what would make Bach revelant? Or Brahams? or Rachmaninoff? What role does "classical" music play in the modern world and why should we care?

Why should anyone care what happens to a symphony orchestra?

Pytheus
Old Toad
OldToad
Group Organizer
Dallas, TX
Post #: 439
Hi Pytheus,

I am intrigued by these questions because I find most "modern" music to be just plain awful. On the other hand, I do have some eclectic tastes and rarely listen to "classical" music.

Would your confirm that what you mean by "license to listen to most anything" is in the sense of not having any objective standards for judging music on a spectrum of from good to bad so no one can be criticized for their tastes in music?

While I know little about music, I would assume that even if the "meaning of music" has not been objectively defined, there must be words/concepts for classifying and characterizing music.

For example, although I lack the words to adequately express why, I find a lot of "classical" music to range from soothing to uplifting, but I find the beat of rap music -- regardless of the words and even if sung by a little child -- to express feelings of anger, antagonism, and even hatred. I find Jazz to be unstructured, convoluted, and annoying. Rock & roll varies a lot, of course, but I tend to like more from the sixties - eighties, but not much from earlier or later. Perhaps this is just because that is what I grew up with and I am a time capsule.

Would you be able to suggest some basic terminology for evaluating music?

-- Todd
A former member
Post #: 44
RAP "music" is in my opinion, not music. It's more like "street" rime, or more accurately...junk.

Music is composed of three elements, Harmony, Melody and Rythem (beat). Again, in my opinion, this is a metaphysical requirement associated with the nature of music.

Throughout history there have been various types of music but I won't go into that now. However it has been my observation, even among Objectivists, that they pay lip service to "classical" music, but really don't listen to it. Why?

I think there are a few reasons and I welcome feedback on this issue.

1) Most people weren't exposed to musical training at an early age. Therefore as they grow, they have no appreciation for "classical" music.

2) Listening to a Beethoven symphony takes time. Listening to it in a focused way takes effort. Most people expend neither the time nor the effort to really try to understand what's going on in a symphony. And why should they...they can flip on a radio station and catch a 3 minute tune in a way akin to "white noise" and keep right on moving.

3) The philosophers and their lapdogs the "academic" composers have turned the concert hall into a charnal house. This slime from the lowest ring of figid hell has stood on the shoulders of giants and produced rubble. But after you've heard all the Beethoven Symphonies a thousand times, what's next? Where is the new GOOD music?

Since no one really answered my question about WHY this is important, I'll expand further. Music is a short cut to philosophy, specifically metaphysics and somewhat epistomology. It is a direct conduit to the sense-of-life of an individual. Today, in America, we have an entire culture that has no idea what a concert hall even looks like, much less what a Brahams clarinet quintet sounds like. We have a culture who's entire sense of life is expressed by rap "music" and Brittney Spears.

An ENTIRE culture who knows who Brittney Spears is but has no idea who Ralph Vaughn-Williams is. OR Verdi, or Montiverdi, or Palistrina and on, and on, and on...

This is NOT an indictment of popular culture, there has always been "popular" music. But it was always balanced by high art. The highest form of musical expression technically available, which in the 19th and 20th century is, or perhaps was, the symphony orchestra. Now we have...Celine Dion on the Vegas strip!

My teacher was Luigi Zannelli, his teacher was Gian Carlo Menoti, his teacher was Rosario Scalero, and his teacher was Johannes Brahams. I'd be willing to bet fewer than 1 in 1000 could actually identify a Brahams Symphony if they heard one.

The Maestro wrote a piece called "Nanie", it was one of his last works. It's for chorus and orchestra. During rehearals the great conductor Hans von Bulow noted it was a piece so intimate he doubted it's suitablilty for public performance. Can you fathom someone even thinking that about so called "music" played today, much less saying it? "Nanie" was writen by one of the greatest composers who ever lived, a man who destroyed the vast majority of this compositions because he felt they were "unworthy", a man who created some of the most perfectly crafted and sublime music...EVER. And yet almost no one remembers his name.

Tragic!

Yet...we hold up the "Beatles" as images of musical wonder! SCANDALOUS!

This issue goes FAR beyond musical taste, it goes to the very heart of a culture! Zannelli used to tell us, "you are what you listen to". I think that's a pretty good statement. It also means I'm not one to "buy into" the idea that just because there is no objective musical identification that "anything goes".

You want a barometer of the culture...turn on the radio!

In DFW there is ONE "classical" music station. In Houston...none (well, there's the UofH station). I think NYC is down to one or two. See where I'm headed? You want philosophy in action...I give you modern music. "Classical" music barely has a "cult" following these days.

So, I ask again Oh Mighty Readers of Atlas Shrugged, is this important or not? Did Ayn Rand write about a composer for a symphony orchestra or Conway Twitty? Did she write about the retelling of the Icarus myth in an opera or "Rush"? Did she regard the orchestra as the highest form of musical organization or didn't she?

She did say musical meaning couldn't be objectively defined...yet. She didn't say listen to "whatever" happens to be playing on the radio without regard for conscious or subconsicous effects.

Regards,

Pytheus
Sherry
SherryTX
Plano, TX
Post #: 426
Zannelli used to tell us, "you are what you listen to".

Music is a wonderful part of life, and can reflect the soul of a person.
I love all sorts of music, and I think each genre (even country music, which I am not a huge fan of over all) has something good to offer humans. Rap-not a big fan, but I do enjoy some, depending on how catchy it is and the them. Punk-(real punk, not the Green Day wanna be punk music) is often viewed as destructive. But there are some great bands out there that do it well. (I took my son to a punk rock concert in December. Bouncing Souls are the bomb.) Not a huge fan of modern pop, but still, there are some great songs as well.

I think it is a mistake to rule out all songs that are labeled under a certain genre. I think Ayn Rand picked the music she picked because that is what she liked. Who knows, she may have picked a ska band if she wrote the book in the 90s.

If one were to take a look at my cd collection, they may get form a different impression of me if they looked at my mp3 player. We have all types of cds, different genres (even country eww) but my mp3 player is 75% Tori Amos. I love classical music, but I don't think the sun rises and sets to it. And I have known a lot of irrational, emotionalist type people that love classical and opera, and plenty of reasonable folks that were into Top 40 or Heavy Metal.

Is Bach relevent? Sure, to those that of us that like Bach. It would be sad if his music was lost, but but its only music.
Old Toad
OldToad
Group Organizer
Dallas, TX
Post #: 440
Jeff,

As I am completely uneducated regarding music, I can only offer a few comments from the perspective of a well-educated person in some other fields.

... it has been my observation, even among Objectivists, that they pay lip service to "classical" music, but really don't listen to it. Why?

You obviously love music. I think you must find it unfathomable that another person might not love music.

But the most fundamental reason why a person does not listen to classical music is because the person is not very interested in music, perhaps not at all. Without a high level of interest, a person would not be inclined to study and learn more.

In my own case, for example, I personally do not listen to very much music at all. Regarding classical music in particular, for the first two reasons you suggested I do not even give much lip service to classical music. The third reason you suggested, whether it is true or not, is irrelevant to me -- I would be unlikely to partake regardless of what offerings were available at the symphony today.

Music is a short cut to philosophy, specifically metaphysics and somewhat epistomology. It is a direct conduit to the sense-of-life of an individual.

Even though I think that this is probably true, I think it is important to take into account a person's lack of interest in music and lack of musical education in judging his sense of life based on his tastes in music. Both interest and education are crucial to an appreciation of better and finer things.

I think popular music -- even if crude to a musically educated person such as yourself -- would also reflect the sense-of-life of a person, and not necessarily negatively as your post seems to suggest.

Of course, even popular music should be judged according the fundamental concepts of music (harmony, melody, and rhythm that you mention), and further, based on what mood or emotion the music is trying to communicate, evoke, or resonate with.

Can you not use your education in music to judge various pieces or types of popular music for the sense of life it reflects, even if it is not sophisticated music?

... This is NOT an indictment of popular culture, there has always been "popular" music. But it was always balanced by high art.
...
You want a barometer of the culture...turn on the radio!

I will accept that music could be one barometer for the philosophical health of a culture, as many people do enjoy music and in a philosophically healthy society a good number of those should be attracted to better and finer music, by objective standards.

But I think there are other interests that could be used as a barometer as well. For example, what about the level of interest in science and engineering?

-- Todd
A former member
Post #: 45
I don't know enough about "pop" music, or ska (not sure what that is, a type of fish?) or Punk Rock, to be much help in evaluating the sense-of-life projected by such "music". I do reject outright the ascertion that rap "music" is even music. I am unwilling NOT to condemn the entire genre simply because a few "songs" might be...what...OK?

If someone isn't interested in music, then I think the discussion is rather pointless. Music is an art-form, and properly belongs in the field of asthetics, which is part of philosophy. SOOOO, I can't quite figure out how you can study philosophy and just "trim off" a major branch. Philosophy IS made up of more than just politics! wink I started studying music before I even knew there was such a thing as philosophy, but, my study of philosophy has deepened my understanding and appreciation of music. And it is now crystal clear to me WHY Asthetics comes AFTER Ethics in the hierarchy of knowledge.

I wasn't suggesting that classical music might be someone's favorite type of music, but that the symphony orchestra was the highest form of musical organization with the greatest expressive power. The suggestion that "it is just music" is repugnant to me in the extreme. One might as well say..."It's just air!"

My CD collection contains thousands of recordings my hundreds of different composers and orchestras. The notion that someone wouldn't care what happens at symphony hall is...well...beyond my personal ability to quite understand. Objectivists all over the world understand what happened on 9-11 when the towers were downed. Not just the tragic loss of life, but what those towers represented. Can the sounds that emerge from a concert hall have any less relevance?

Is the world a better of worse place from having had Ayn Rand live and write her monumental ideas or not? If you answer a better place, then that makes the tragic loss of high-art even more disturbing. Perhaps Punk Rock is a noble music, I'm not qualified to answer. But I am qualified to understand the complexity of musical expression, and based on my admittedly limited exposure to Punk Rock, it doesn't come close to the granduer of a Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto.

What I find most enlightening about this discussion is the "shrug" I think I'm getting. The, "it's only music" so who really cares attitude. SCARY! Which, if I recall correctly, was my point at the beginning.

"I notice many people presume that since the meaning of music hasn't yet been objectively defined they use this as a license to listen to most anything."

I haven't read any argument to dissuade me from this conclusion. If Asthethics properly follows Ethics, and Ethics defines morality, then, it follows that music, being a part of Asthetics, must have a moral beginning. It must proceed from Metaphysics, through the hierarchy of knowledge to it's final form. I agree with Ayn Rand when she suggests that music is a "shortcut" to philosophy. Allow me to quote:

"Conceptual integrations require constant effort and impose a permanent responsibility: they involve the risk or error and failure. The process of musical imtegration is automatic and effortless. (It is experienced as effortless since it is unconscious: it is a process of cashing in on the kinds of mental habits one has, or has not, spent effort to acquire.) One's reaction to music carries a sense of total certainty, is if it were simple, self-evident, not to be doubted; it involves one's emotions, i.e., one's values, and one's deepest sense of oneself - it is experienced as a magic union of sensations and thought, as it thought had acquired the immediate sense of direct awareness." from Art and Cognition by Ayn Rand

The woman is a TITAN!!!! Read the entire content of this siminal essay. So, when I hear..."it's just music"...well...I think the implications should be clear! I think it's easy to say Ayn Rand was great, but when you really READ her, she becomes more insightful and profound each time.

This is not some trivial matter to be brushed off like so much dirt on a jacket. This is part of the fundamentals..."one's deepest sense of oneself."

Regards,

Pytheus
Old Toad
OldToad
Group Organizer
Dallas, TX
Post #: 443
Hi Jeff,

I am not sure if you are responding to me personally or not, but it seems so.

Music is an art-form, and properly belongs in the field of asthetics, which is part of philosophy. SOOOO, I can't quite figure out how you can study philosophy and just "trim off" a major branch. Philosophy IS made up of more than just politics!

To the extent you might be responding to me, I didn't say I was trimming off all of aesthetics. I didn't say I was only interested in politics, either.

I also think this argument you are making is faulty. There are five major branches of philosophy. Why can't a person have more interest in one branch than another? And why can't a person have more interest in one particular art form than another?

I wasn't suggesting that classical music might be someone's favorite type of music, but that the symphony orchestra was the highest form of musical organization with the greatest expressive power. The suggestion that "it is just music" is repugnant to me in the extreme.

If you are responding to me, I didn't say great classical music was "just music," and I didn't mean to be disrespectful of your tremendous appreciation for music or the work it takes to appreciate it, let alone create it. I just do not have the degree of personal interest in music to be motivated to do that work to enjoy it. I expect that limits me to simpler, cruder forms of music.

Objectivists all over the world understand what happened on 9-11 when the towers were downed. Not just the tragic loss of life, but what those towers represented. Can the sounds that emerge from a concert hall have any less relevance?

The destruction or decay of all things that are the highest and the best of human achievement in a culture are important and relevant to that culture. (I am not sure, however, which is more relevant, the towers or a symphony hall.) Even if I do not personally miss the towers or a classical music station because I did not ever want to personally visit them, I do and will personally miss many other things in our lives and culture that are reflected by the loss of such high things to a rising tide of unreason.

What I find most enlightening about this discussion is the "shrug" I think I'm getting. The, "it's only music" so who really cares attitude. SCARY! Which, if I recall correctly, was my point at the beginning.

We are not getting a shrug here on this message board just on classical music. We are getting a shrug from our culture on EVERYTHING of value, and fundamentally, on rational philosophy. This is a small group. We need to work to make it much bigger and more active.

-- Todd
A former member
Post #: 204
I agree that music is very important to the rationally active consciousness and that a symphony orchestra is the highest expression of music. Given the wide variety of musical instruments available via the symphony, it makes possible a much wider range of integrated musical expression. As with other types of art, integration is the key. If popular music can be compared to a very short story, then a symphony is like an epic novel.

I think if one enjoys the functioning of one's own mind -- that is, if one is comfortable with one's psycho-epistemology -- then one will tend to want to experience that functioning across the entire range and scope of one's consciousness; which, for the rational man, requires more than just a simply thought process or a simple musical ditty. Though the latter can be enjoyable, just as one can enjoy a simple short story, the rational man would want to experience the full range of his consciousness in action, which requires a more complex and integrated form of musical expression.

I think there is a relationship between harmony and psycho-epistemology, though I'm not sure I could put all of this into words.

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A former member
Post #: 46
No, I wasn't responding to ONLY you Todd. laughing

I've been trying to drive either agreement with or rejection of my orginal suggestion through some well thought out argument. There are, naturally, various levels of specific knoewledge; music is a technical subject. (I'm sure I can't make a argument about Football laughing. )

And I didn't think anyone was being "disrespectful"; don't be so sensative. smile
A former member
Post #: 47
Tom,

I think you hit the "nail on the head"!

And I agree with you that harmony plays a role in psycho-epistimology. As does Melody and Rythem.

One of my greatest teachers, a man named Dr. Joe Barry Mullins, used to play a work called "Irish Tune from County Derry" (Danny Boy to the unwashed) as a encore. It's a very simple tune, and EXTREMELY difficult to play well. You could say it's deceptively simple, yet I've seen entire audiences reduced to weeping from joy at hearing Dr. Mullins conduct this work.

So I think simple music CAN be meaningful, but as you point out, the wider your level of integrations, the more complex and broader your abstractions become.

Pytheus
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