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Saturday morning quotes 8.9: Teach music

January 16, 2021

Given that we presently inhabit an age where elected leaders are more prone to exhibit childish behavior than actually lead, it is high time we pause to consider just what sort of example we are setting for the next few generations in all aspects of life. It’s time to reflect how we arrived at such a point in time, ponder possible remedies and put them in place pronto before what remains of the mess of our hard-won civilization dribbles down the bunghole and seeps into the longanimous earth leaving behind nothing more than a malodorous smudge of a stain.

It turns out that the state of music is a good gauge for measuring the health of our society. In past ages when children were educated in the rudiments of music, society was blossoming, and innovative and useful discoveries were seen as a sign of progress. Music is now nothing more than a consumer good that has been ripped asunder from its creators by digital distributors for the sole purpose of maximum profit. The quality of most commonly heard music today is uniformly appalling, and the meaningful puzzle canons of figures like Ockeghem are now supplanted by angry grunting profanities accompanied by throbbing electronic percussion. It’s really no wonder people now tend towards unkindness and suspicion of their neighbors.

How did we arrive at this unfortunate point? The answer lies in the deplorable defunding of music education that has occurred over the past several generations. A particular parsimonious point of view has crept into state legislatures and local school boards, and the misguided message is that society is better served by a system of education that churns out consumers of products rather than creators of ideas and arts. Tech companies are smothering school systems with seemingly generous donations of computing devices for all, but they are creating dependency on these devices rather than advancing creative and critical thinking.

Examining historical approaches to education reveals that attitudes in the 16th century were much more enlightened than today. Sir Thomas Elyot (c. 1490 – 1546) was responsible for educating the children of the notorious Henry VIII, and in The Boke named the Governour (1531), set down an outline for the proper education of a person of noble rank who was destined to rule. Elyot describes how and why it is necessary for a ruler to understand the the concept of harmony as a metaphor for the ideal state:

 “…[H]e shall commend the perfect understanding of music, declaring how necessary it is for the better attaining the knowledge of a public weal, which as I before said, is made of an order of estates and degrees, and by reason thereof containeth in it a perfect harmony: which he shall afterward more perfectly understand, when he shall happen to read the books of Plato and Aristotle of public weals: wherein be written diverse examples of music and geometry. In this form may a wise and circumspect tutor adapt the pleasant science of music to a necessary and laudable purpose.”

– Sir Thomas Elyot

Although many facets of our cultural history bear a distinct class bias, we see that during Tudor times the opportunity for an essential education in music was not confined to the elite class.

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

– David G. T. Harris, “Musical Education in Tudor Times (1485-1603)”, Proceedings of the Musical Association, 65th Sess. (1938 – 1939), pp. 118-121. 

Eliminating funding for education in music and concentrating on coding for and fluency in the use of tech devices is robbing our young people of a life that explores the abstract, the ephemeral, and the practical life skills one gains from an education in music. Dependence on tech devices has unfortunately led us to a drab existence that is defined by manipulative fanatics and identitarian fads that ultimately gain momentum by fomenting division rather than fostering harmony. What we get is now called the “cancel culture”.

“The problem we have online is that an algorithm decides what we want to see, which ends up creating a simplistic, binary view of society…It becomes a case of either you’re with us or against us. And if you’re against us, you deserve to be ‘canceled.’”

“It’s important that we’re exposed to a wide spectrum of opinion, but what we have now is the digital equivalent of the medieval mob roaming the streets looking for someone to burn…So it is scary for anyone who’s a victim of that mob and it fills me with fear about the future.”

Rowan Atkinson

Contrary to marketing philosophy that elevates young people as the bearers of useful information regarding current technology to the disadvantage of the traditional wisdom of the elders—a serious but blatantly calculated public delusion—young people need and respond to benevolent guidance and example. The abysmal level of cultural standards today can be directly linked to our reliance on marketing statistics as a measure of the success of our society. In point of fact, youth culture is for all intents and purposes absent today because young people are crouched over their electronic devices instead of expanding minds and artistic standards by practicing their musical instruments.

“…You can only play Shakespeare when you have reached a certain stage of technical expertise. So often you will see very young actors who look divine. Then they open their little traps. You think, oh dear.”

Barbara Jefford (1930 – 2020)

If we want to improve the world for the present and for our children, we must teach them through example.

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One Comment
  1. Chris Barker permalink

    Goodness gracious… If we only had an Alexander VI to run the show…

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