Saturday morning quotes 3.50: Attention!
As we approach the conclusion of our third full year of Saturday morning quotes, we revisit a few of the important themes that inspired us to initiate and maintain this weekly effort. This week, we take time to remind our readers that the study of music is an all-important element in battling our culture’s collective dwindling attention span.
Our first quotes are from Johannes de Grocheio (c. 1255 – 1320), as found in the untitled manuscript dating from circa 1300 which was later dubbed De musica by modern scholars.
“[The Estampie] is a song in which there is a diversity in its parts and its refrain, not only the rhyme of the words, but also the melody….This type causes the souls of young men and girls to concentrate because of its difficulty…”
“The estampie is also an untexted piece, having a complicated succession of concords, determined by versicles…Because of its complicated nature, it makes the soul of the performer and listener pay close attention …”
True then and true today, by learning, memorizing and playing a rather complex form of melody, performers develop and refine the skill of concentration. You can find more detailed information about Grocheio’s unique historical observations in the following articles:
– Timothy J. McGee, “Medieval Dances: Matching the Repertory with Grocheio’s Descriptions,” The Journal of Musicology, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Autumn, 1989), pp. 498-517.
– Christopher Page, “Johannes de Grocheio on Secular Music,” Plainsong and Medieval Music 2 (1993): 17-41.
– John Haines and Patricia DeWitt,”Johannes de Grocheio and Aristotelian Natural Philosophy,” Early Music History / Volume 27 / October 2008, pp 47-98.
Our next quote is by our old friend John Dowland, from his translation of Besard’s ‘Necessarie Observations’, as found in Robert Dowland’s A Varietie of Lute Lessons (1610). Dowland gives three “rules” as a guide to attain the Art of playing the lute.
“First, if he haue no great defect, and haue that naturall desire towards Mvsicke, which hath beene the founder of excellence in euery Art: Secondly, if hee stint himselfe in his learning with such labour and exercise that is moderate, and continuall, not such vnreasonable paines as many doe weary themselues with: Thirdly, if he be patient for a good long time, for commonly this brings vs whether wee will or no to the highest of the Sciences.”
For those of you who may think Dowland simply skipped the spell-checker, he implies that one must apply one’s attention to the matter at hand.
A lack of attention span is the direct result of the constant distraction provided by electronic devices. This modern and ubiquitous problem is not necessarily due to defect, diet, disease nor disability, but it is the unfortunate outcome of normal participation in 21st-century life. The sort of dedicated concentration essential to learning music and playing an instrument well, as outlined above by Dowland, is not reinforced by a system of education that prioritizes test scores while constantly dealing with the hard realities of crowd control in the classroom.
An unfortunate byproduct of a dwindling attention span is a general dilution of academic rigor, in part caused by ready access to an overabundance of spurious information available on the internet. We draw your attention to a bit of disquieting evidence:
“A 1999 survey found that fifty percent of participating students admitted they had used the Internet to commit plagiarism. In a third survey, five percent of students reported they had submitted a paper obtained from an online term-paper mill, and ten percent acknowledged they had plagiarized a paper taken from the Internet. Unfortunately, this trend of academic dishonesty is likely to worsen…”
“…The Internet has provided students with new ways to avoid the processes of thinking and learning.”
– Darby Dickerson, “Facilitated Plagiarism,” Villanova Law Review, Vol. 52, Iss. 1 , Art. 2
Dickerson suggests several solutions to the problem and concludes that:
“…Schools should take a comprehensive, coordinated, science-based approach to tackling matters of academic dishonesty. Steps under this paradigm include problem identification, outcome identification, research, collaborative problem-solving, program implementation and evaluation.”
How about simply restoring a tried and true method of teaching concentration, critical thinking, ethics and values, and an appreciation for aesthetic beauty – through the study of music?