Skip to content

Saturday morning quotes 7.35: Trust

February 1, 2020


Trust is an issue that affects us all in this modern age that favors manipulated imagery over reality.  Sadly, trust is a problem that represents a widening chasm between generations, and this is particularly relevant when one notices the fewness of young faces in the audience at a typical early music concert.  This may be the case for a host of reasons but, as in the romantic depiction of the legend of Wilhelm Tell above, do young people have a reason to blindly trust that we are not just vicariously reliving our own spirit of discovery and imposing yet another managed and guided experience upon them?

We would like to explore the issue of inter-generational trust as facet of the question of why young people seem generally ambivalent about early music, and what we might do to welcome them into the experience.

Focusing on the 1980s segment of the revival, early music was a cultural pet project that attracted persons who straddled the fence delineating high art and free-thinking.  With conscious rejection of the Victorian tuxedo and ball gown, early music performers presented a more relaxed concert experience and audiences were willing to go along with the more bohemian approach to concerts.  Performers also indulged in what appeared to be old music performed with an improvisational approach, and presented with the enthusiasm of discovery with a youthful energy.  This era probably represented the high-water mark of the early music revival.

Tastes change from generation to generation, and it is always shocking to the older generation that their own youthful discoveries are no longer relevant.  Early music enthusiasts aged and diversified, specializing in arcane corners of the repertory and refining both technique and delivery.  But there appears to be a lingering sense of disbelief that the buzz of (their) discovery of early music was unsustainable and likewise not necessarily transferable to the next generation.  In her biographical sketch of John Dowland, Diana Poulton pointed out:

“Few men escape the weakness, as age overtakes them, of looking back on the days of their youth as a more propitious and grateful time, and the remembered enthusiasm of earlier days carries the mind back to youthful triumphs and inverts them with a savour lacking in the successes of later years.”

– Diana Poulton, John Dowland, University of California Press, Berkeley, second edition, 1982, p. 76

As the novelty of the early  music revival nosedived, the trueness of the music slowly seeped out into the world, and we saw events like the film, Tous les matins du monde, 1991, which injected a bit of Hollywood buzz into the racket, stimulating a bit of public awareness.

“Normally, for the early-music concerts, the age of the audience was 50 to 80, and after ‘Tous les matins du monde,’ many more young people started coming to the concerts.”

Jordi Savall

Such large-screen phenomena had a marked effect on a public conditioned to respond to mass marketing before the advent of Youtube and the era of the small screen.  But the successful cinematic example that resulted in a broad awareness of what was once a niche market was established and, when the buzz began to fade again in a few years, it was resuscitated through attempts by marketing professionals to convince the world that there was still a growing interest.

This market-driven mentality in fact resulted in the direct opposite of the desired effect.  Young people see through the façade of marketing that envelops every aspect of modern life, and all the effort expended in attempts to codify the early music experience and approach it with a franchise mentality has only led to a general sense of indifference.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center points out how little trust young people have in the media and in institutions.  While the study was focused more broadly on public institutions, the revealing results can easily be extrapolated to our world of early music.

“Younger adults tend to express less confidence in several of these leaders and groups than do older adults. Adults under 30 are significantly less confident about the military, religious leaders, business leaders and police officers than are those 50 and older.”

– Pew Research Center, Trust and Distrust in America, p. 18

“In addition to their concerns about low and declining levels of trust in government, many Americans are anxious about the level of confidence citizens have in each other. Fully 71% think interpersonal confidence has worsened in the past 20 years. And about half (49%) think a major weight dragging down such trust is that Americans are not as reliable as they used to be.”

– Pew Research Center, p. 29

Thanks to the imposition of the marketing mentality upon early music, young people have very little trust in the experience beyond what may assist them on their own career trajectories.  And the answer does not lie in social media.

“[The] rise in social media and narrow cast media means that we converse in bubbles. This has led to polarization of discussions and beliefs. We have lost the ability to have civil public discourse and remember that good people can disagree.” A more succinct respondent put it, “Social media has become a cancerous blight on society.”

– Pew Research Center, p. 32

It could very well be that ageing audiences at early music concerts are inadvertantly hampering the sense of discovery for a potential younger audience by insisting upon a concert-going etiquette that makes no sense to a generation nursed on passive mistrust of targeted marketing and weaned on “smart” phones.  Perhaps there is a general sense of disappointment that they do not share our own 1980s retrospective sense of discovery.

“Dowland seems to have suffered his full share of this malady, so common among those from whom youth has already fled, and in spite of his own prodigious musical innovations he appears to have nursed a bitter resentment against all forms of change, seeing in them a challenge to his well-established reputation.”

– Diana Poulton, John Dowland, University of California Press, Berkeley, second edition, 1982, p. 76

There is a glimmer of hope. Over the years we have provided music on several occasions for a school that emphasizes the (capitial “C”) Classics, and after a particular concert we were at once both encouraged and entertained to overhear an informal group of students in a corner discussing which of our CDs they had, as though they were comparing baseball cards.  We have also encountered some of those students who continue to follow our music years after graduating and getting on with life, even to the point of showing up at our concerts and requesting specific songs.  This seems like normal behavior that emerged from their own unguided sense of discovery, which is surely the foundation upon which inter-generational trust is built.

  1. Christopher Barker permalink

    Twenty three years of college and public school teaching has shown me that history and so called “social studies” teachers are preaching to their students anything that came before the current far left view of everything they are spoon feeding to our gullible students is not worth attention. The modern classroom is the leader in the downfall of not only early music but everything else within our culture and traditions. I think they are saying everything that came before 1985 should be shunned and banished.

    • Of course what is considered “far left” is very subjective. Today’s establishment Democrats are pretty far to the right of Ronald Reagan’s policies, and Ike’s farewell speech indicated that his stand on issues was not much different from that of Bernie Sanders.

      I would not say that everything that came before 1985 should be shunned, but there has been an awful lot of intentional public gaslighting going on since that time.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: