Monday, May 22, 2006

Email From Warren

A few years ago, my friend, Warren, moved from Montpelier to Athens, GA. After running into him at a Magnolia Electric Co. show last year, we started sharing the occasional email which is great because his emails are fantastic. As an example, here's the one he sent after reading my post about the VPR Community Forum and specifically about elitism and classical music. Enjoy the rant.

Subject: Pretentious Fucks Are Everywhere and They Have the Power

Oh Brian,

I loved reading about our expieriences with VPR. In response to that lady whose worried about intelligence, I'd like to add that I think her attitude is unspoken but pervasive in Central VT. It always seemed to me that a lot of the people that shopped at the Co-op were there to purchase status, not necessarily eco-friendly detergent. Be wary of Volvo's with Bernie stickers, that's what I always say. And I loves some Bernie.

But I digress,

I'm dealing with something very similar to what you're going through with VPR. I recently was accepted to UGA's Music School for my Master's (it was quite a hassle since I went to Goddard and had no GPA). Anyway, what I'm discovering is that there is a deep rooted snobbery from classical musicians or academics towards any forms of "popular" or "folk"/vernacular music. In terms of curriculum, there is very, very little offered in terms of rock studies or any other popular music form in the Graduate program, and they literally have the guy who wrote the book on it on faculty. Just to get my Master's I'm going to have to take several music theory courses which will do me next to no good (again, rock and folk music, guys) and courses on the History of Western Music, which, and this is soooo cute, use "Roll Over Beethoven" as their rock example. Again, I think it's safe to argue that this hierarchical system of looking at music has clearly been shown to be inaccurate and faulty. I'd have to say that "Won't Get Fooled Again" is more important and enjoyable than Steve Reich's collection of abstract tape loops. Who really cares about the Twelve Tone compositional style (12 notes to an octave instead of 8, I think) when we could be listening to a little "Foggy Mountain Breakdown".

It's been 50 years and these people still can't admit that only a selective few care more for Mozart and the other dead honkies over Radiohead. We gotta watch out because these fools are writting the histories that are going to be studied later. Just like we need to watch out for books like "A Patriot's History of the US" (a real book) which is a re-revisionist history of the US and a reaction to Howard Zinn's "People's History"(which popularized the bottom-down style of history).

In these people's world this stuff is really important, but it's time to face up to the fact that the most important opera written in the past 50 years is "Tommy", and it doesn't really even make sense.

I have spoken,



Bill said...

Interesting. I totally agree that the desire to attract a younger radio audience and classical music snobbery are concepts that are at odds, but I must take exception to the underlying premise of Warren's email (hi, Warren, I'm Bill). The fact that "Won't Get Fooled Again" is a more accessible (and hence more popular) form of music than pretty much anything by Steve Reich says nothing about their relative values as subjects in music school. If there is any place where music snobbery should be acceptable, it's in music school. As with any art form, you go to school to learn about and from the masters of the various styles and genres. I teach film production and yes, I include modern, popular films in my curriculum to keep things interesting for new students, but there's SO MUCH to learn from Welles and Goddard and Truffaut and Renoir and Eisenstein and Deren and Bunuel. No film education is complete without seeing that stuff and on some level understanding why that stuff is important. Will those filmmakers go out in the world and make conscious references to Maya Deren when they're shooting their BMW ad or indy feature? Probably not, but that doesn't mean it was unimportant to learn.

It's true that more people care about Radiohead than Mozart (me included) but that doesn't mean that Radiohead is more important than Mozart in any relevant sense. More people arguably care about Christina Agulera than Radiohead but since when do we really care about what's the most popular music? Just as you and I can say with conviction that Radiohead is way more complex and brilliant than most top 40 music, so too do music acedemics look upon pop music with similar derision. It doesn't make them wrong, they just have a different (read: more educated) perspective than we do.

Tmoore said...

i couldn't agree more.

like my grandpappy once told me, it's not the quantity of complicated chord progressions and incalculable time signatures in the that new fangled jiffy lube comercial... it's the something or other. He tended to trail off...

he also said

Milk milk lemonade around the corner fudge is made!

The Le Duo said...

For a minute there I just pictured Mozart with his weird hair humping on Christina Agulera. yeah

Flatlander said...

I don't think there is anything wrong with teaching the classics in whatever art form is being taught. However, I don't think the pop side of that art form should be dismissed either. If anything the two sides should be studied together to get a complete understanding of how people interact and absorb art.