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Saturday morning quotes 4.20: Recurring theme

September 27, 2014

Our weekly quotations tend to bounce around a bit, but a recurring theme is the gentle reminder to all that we should acknowledge the vital importance of studying and learning from history.  For the lutenist involved in re-creating historical music, that does not mean merely collecting all the various versions of Dowland’s Lachrimae pavan and storing facsimiles and modern scores on your hard drive.

Truly studying historical music involves digging much deeper; striving to gain an understanding of what song texts and music meant to both musician and listener in their original time and place.  To understand the significance of Dowland’s music one must attempt to discover and read and hear and play what inspired Dowland.  This is not an impossible task if we follow the clues in Dowland’s choice of song texts, the prefatory remarks and dedications in his song books, the scant bit of poetry and correspondence he left behind.

“Excellent men haue at all time in all Arts deliuered to Posteritie their obseruations, thereby bringing Arts to a certainty and perfection….There is nothing can more aduance the apprehension of Musicke, than the reading of such Writers as haue both skilfully and diligently set downe the precepts thereof.”

– John Dowland, preface to his translation of Andreas Ornithoparcus His Micrologus or Introduction:  containing The Art of Singing. Digested into foure bookes. Not onely profitable, but also necessary for all that are studious of musicke. (1609).

Of course, musical training was a given for any educated person in Dowland’s time, and reading the Classics in their original language only reinforced the importance of music in maintaining a balanced mind.

Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul; on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful; and also because he who has received this education of the inner being will most shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature, and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good, he will justly blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he is able to know the reason why; and when reason comes he will recognize and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar.

– Socrates, in Plato’s Republic, Book III

In our modern culture’s race to the very bottom of the abyss aided by complete dependence upon electronic toys, we are dismayed to see the deliberate de-funding of public education, especially a musical education. And literature.  In last week’s local paper, teachers commented on their lack of interest in teaching the Classics, citing a lack of relevance to the lives of modern pupils.  We’re not talking about the Classics, which are out of the question in public education.  The Classics in the jargon of our oh so modern system of public education refer to dog-earred but tried and true novels such as The Scarlet Letter, Great Expectations, etc.  It’s almost as though the horrible fantasy outlined in Umberto Eco’s recent novel is well underway:

“…We shall remove from educational programs all subjects that might harm the spirit of young people, and we shall make them into obedient citizens who love their sovereign.  Instead of allowing them to study classics and ancient history, which contains more bad than good, we shall make them study the problems of the future.  We shall cancel from human memory the record of past centuries, which could be unpleasant for us.  With a methodical education we will be able to eliminate the remnants of that independence of thought which has served our purposes for a considerable time.”

– Umberto Eco, The Prague Cemetary (Il Cimitero di Praga), translated from the Italian by Richard Dixon, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, New York, 2010, p. 418.

But who cares about the crabby observations of sensitive musicians who have dedicated their lives to sharing shining examples of some of our best cultural monuments?

“One of the most dangerous effects of the specialist system is to externalize its critics, and thus deprive them of standing.”

– Wendell Berry, Life is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition, Counterpoint, Washington D.C., 2000, p. 70.


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