Citation Needed

by on August 15, 2012

I was reading this Wikipedia entry today, and saw this:

Roger Waters’ 1992 album “Amused to Death” was, in part, inspired by and deals with some of the same subject matter as Postman’s book. In The End of Education Postman remarks that the album had “elevated my prestige among undergraduates”, and says that he has no “inclination [to repudiate Roger Waters or his kind of music] for any […] reason.” However, he describes that “[t]he level of education required to appreciate the music of Roger Waters is both different and lower than what is required to appreciate, let us say, a Chopin ├ętude [my emphasis] … Most American students are well tuned to respond with feeling, critical intelligence, and considerable attention to forms of popular music, but are not prepared to feel or even experience the music of Haydn, Bach, or Mozart; that is to say, their hearts are closed, or partially closed, to the canon of Western music … There is in short something missing in the aesthetic experience of our young.”

For the avoidance of doubt, I wouldn’t listen to Roger Waters either myself – I find him turgid and pretentious. But that’s what musical taste is all about. Yet the Neil Postman quote strikes a chord (no pun intended).

I was a student (in the UK) in 1992, and can honestly say that classical Western music does nothing for me in any way. I don’t think I’ve met anyone of my own age who says they actually prefer classical music to popular music. I’ve met several who would say they appreciate both pretty much equally though. So I guess I may not be in too extreme a minority. I’ve often tried to understand why my heart isn’t open to the canon of Western music, but failed. To me, it just sounds like so much running water: relaxing mostly, occasionally vaguely moving when it gets animated, but ultimately if I never heard another squeaky violin or crumpy French horn again, I’d be fine. Classical music says nothing to my state of mind, or my life, or my experience of it. The music of Haydn, Bach, or Mozart is therefore essentially dead to me. As is, I would probably say, classical Chinese or Indian music, ignoring some passing exotic attraction.

Yet I sort of wish this wasn’t the case. This is because I’ve heard Postman’s idea before that appreciating classical music is linked to the level of your intellect or education. This latter factor makes me even more mystified – I am the product of a classical public school (but not Oxbridge) education. How is it that I can quote Latin verse, yet still think The Pixies are more interesting than Mahler? How is it that my father can sit next to me in his living room clearly transported into some kind of ecstasy on hearing Sarabande, when to me it’s rather boring, twiddly chomping?

(Blogging – I can recommend it for getting stuff off your chest)

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