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Saturday morning quotes 5.4: Music matters

June 13, 2015

Being front-line witnesses to the epic tragedy of the crumbling of civilization as we knew it, we examine the problem from our unique perspective as specialists in the repertory and context of music for voice and lute from the 16th century.  Of course, thinking persons of every historical era expressed the same sentiment – that the world was going to hell in a handbasket.  But in many cases the observation was accurate and, for so many reasons, it would be difficult to dispute the premise today.

Our series of essays will outline but not dwell upon the unfortunate ongoing marginalization of music, and will offer observations and solutions based on ideas gleaned from historical sources.  We delve into our series by employing a time-honored method.

Music has been an important component of education in our culture for centuries and, optimally presented, may result in more balanced, engaged, intelligent, empathetic and civilized individuals. Increasingly disenfranchised youth have been abandoned by narcissistic parents and are subject to brutal cuts in spending for education by an ignorant and self-serving Congress.  A greater concentration on education in music, with a restored level of respect for its importance and adequate funding for its implementation, will mitigate the disenfranchisement of youth and produce more balanced, creative and empathetic persons. 

First, what defines a civilized society?

Civilized people must, I believe, satisfy the following criteria:

1) They respect human beings as individuals and are therefore always tolerant, gentle, courteous and amenable…They do not create scenes over a hammer or a mislaid eraser; they do not make you feel they are conferring a great benefit on you when they live with you, and they don’t make a scandal when they leave…

2) They have compassion for other people besides beggars and cats. Their hearts suffer the pain of what is hidden to the naked eye…

3) They respect other people’s property, and therefore pay their debts.

4) They are not devious, and they fear lies as they fear fire. They don’t tell lies even in the most trivial matters. To lie to someone is to insult them, and the liar is diminished in the eyes of the person he lies to. Civilized people don’t put on airs; they behave in the street as they would at home, they don’t show off to impress their juniors…

5) They don’t run themselves down in order to provoke the sympathy of others. They don’t play on other people’s heartstrings to be sighed over and cosseted…that sort of thing is just cheap striving for effects, it’s vulgar, old hat and false…

6) They are not vain. They don’t waste time with the fake jewellery of hobnobbing with celebrities, being permitted to shake the hand of a drunken [judicial orator], the exaggerated bonhomie of the first person they meet at the Salon, being the life and soul of the bar…True talent always sits in the shade, mingles with the crowd, avoids the limelight…

7) If they do possess talent, they value it…They take pride in it…they know they have a responsibility to exert a civilizing influence on [others] rather than aimlessly hanging out with them. And they are fastidious in their habits…

8) They work at developing their aesthetic sensibility…Civilized people don’t simply obey their baser instincts…they require mens sana in corpore sano [a sound mind in a sound body].

– Anton Chekhov, A Life in Letters, Translated by Rosamund Bartlett and Anthony Phillips, Penguin Books, London, 2004.

How does music fit into the schema of a civilized culture?

“The very world and the sky above us, according to the doctrine of philosophers, are said to bear in themselves the sound of music.  Music moves the affections of men, stimulates the emotions into a different mood…”

– Aurelian of Reome, Musica disciplina (c. 850)

Why should we bother to teach music universally to all students?

…[The teacher] shall commend the perfect understanding of music, declaring how necessary it is for the better attaining the knowledge of a public weal, which…is made of an order of estates and degrees, and by reason thereof containeth in it a perfect harmony…In this form may a wise and circumspect tutor adapt the pleasant science of music to a necessary and laudable purpose.

– Sir Thomas Elyot (c. 1490 – 1546), The Boke named the Governour (1531)

In our next post we begin with the clear and concise ideas of Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, (c.35 – 95 AD) from his Institutio oratoria, adapting his discussion of the education of the young to the purpose of an effective musical education.

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