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Saturday morning quotes 5.5: Music matters #2

June 19, 2015

Musicians are—or can be—among our civilization’s more refined, creative and intelligent individuals.  We’re ruling out the attention-grabbing noisemakers and other anomalies like today’s ubiquitous Garage Band sample jockeys, Henry VIII, Ozzy Osborne (drug impaired, not really music), Richard Nixon (pianist, foul-mouthed pathological liar), Carlo Gesualdo (just plain psychotic), Ted Nugent (sorry Will, he’s a reactionary gun-toting moron), and others whose names and faces are notorious because they are or were mere performers or public personalities.

A performer does not necessarily have a deep and intimate relationship with the science and aesthetics of music, and not every sensitive and well-trained musician is necessarily a performer.  For music was considered a science and was grouped as such among the Seven Liberal Arts, the cornerstone of education for more than two thousand years.

To exemplify the natural extension of an historical training in rhetoric and a musical education, we draw upon the wisdom of Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, known today as Quintilian (c.35 – 95 AD). His Institutio oratoria contains a systematic approach to teaching the art of rhetoric.  Neatly and systematically organized into twelve progressively-themed books, Quintilian outlines the importance of beginning education at an early age with a careful, focused and positive program of elementary training.

“…[For] we are by nature most tenacious of the things we learned when our minds were fresh…and the colors of wool to which their primitive whiteness was changed cannot be washed out.  And these very traits cling the more persistently, the worse they are.  For what is good is easily changed for the worse, but when will you ever change vices to virtues?  The child should not become accustomed therefore, even in infancy, to expressions which will have to be unlearned.”

Now stop and think about that for a moment.  For nearly 2,000 years we have had the clear advice from a writer and teacher that children should not be exposed to negative talk and imagery for the simple reason that children absorb what they see and hear in their surroundings, and it is difficult to expunge bad examples.  We have had at least four generations of children who have been exposed to commercial media that has become increasingly and graphically violent.  And advertisers, who rule the airways and internet, have tapped nefarious psychological specialists who know how to shape the message for the target.  These marketing psychologists have a great deal to answer for, and are in the same criminal league as physicians who supervise CIA torture programs.

Some would argue that not all are susceptible to training, particularly in music.  Quintilian wrote:

“For unfounded is the complaint that to very few persons is there granted the power of learning what is presented to them, but that most of them waste through their dullness of native mentality the effort and time spent on them.  For on the contrary you will find the majority [of children] facile in invention and quick to grasp an idea.”

Leaping ahead in time and turning toward a musical education, in our 2012 series of articles on Dowland’s training, we discussed the typical musical education experienced by a child of the merchant or craftsman class in Tudor England.

[Prior to the Reformation] “Education was generally free, so boys of the poorer classes had an opportunity of specialised training in music.”

– David G. T. Harris, “Musical Education in Tudor Times (1485-1603)”, Proceedings of the Musical Association, 65th Sess. (1938 – 1939), pp. 109-139.

How does teaching of Rhetoric tie into the teaching of music?  Musical expression has always been equated with the rhetorical devices, and the study of music went hand in hand with the study of religion, literature and oratory.

“Two principles seem to have actuated the teaching of music in the Grammar Schools; to help diction for the reading of Latin and Greek texts, and to train pupils to sing the musical sections of the Church Services. Apparently music was not taught with a view to fit the pupil with a necessary social accomplishment.”

– Harris, p. 121.

We explore Quintilian’s methods in more detail in future posts.

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