Is Classical Music Elitist? Part 4

Continued from:

Passions run high in debates on classical music, and when charges of elitism begin to fly, there is no telling how far the participants will go. Continuing the look at the discussion on the Guardian’s web site, here is Maritz’s response to katyekpay’s last post:

5 Nov 2009, 7:22PM

To Katyekpay

You promised to ask only one question but then asked quite a few. Your last sentence begins as a proclamation and ends in a question, for example. Some non-elitist higher education might help to hone the ability to write clearly and ask one question at a time.

1. In this context I am prejudiced only against stupidity which is attempting to masquerade as socialism.

2. I like, listen to and watch all kinds of music, dance, and read all forms of the written word. An elitist believes that certain types of all 3 of these are beneath them.

3. Jazz and Pop are not the same thing, so I can’t agree to answer a question that lumps them both in a category together as a contrast to Opera. Jazz is Art. Pop is not. Opera is obviously Art.

4. Knowing more about the Arts than you does not make me an elitist. It means I am more educated. I would like to see every student given the chance to know and understand all forms of music, dance and the written word. I am doing something about it. What about you???

5. Popular art is EASIER than Classical because it doesn’t take any skill to enjoy and few to none to perform. You said it yourself when you crowed that you don’t see many teenaged violinist, violists or cellists going out to form “bands”. It is EASIER because it is relevant. RELEVANCE is achieved by having easy access. Easy access is what this comment piece is about. There is no discussion of Michelle Obama championing the cause of garage bands. Geddit?

6. You do understand that the building blocks of music are in the understanding of music notation and the understanding, at a minimum, of chord structure and progressions of chords built on the diatonic scale ? That both of those are needed for reading or writing any type of music? That the greatness of Improvisational Jazz is the understanding of the chord structures of music and then improvising upon a chord progression without any rehearsal or discussion? That many popular musicians do not know how to read this notation, understand any music theory or analysis at all and because of this they often do not write their own material? How can they be called artists if they don’t write or even understand the basic tools of their “art”? Pop musicians can fake almost every aspect of their performance. The machines they use do most of the work – there are voice tracks which accompany every performance to enhance the sound of their voice even when they cannot sing. There are crutches built into almost every act – there are “safety nets” for their vocals, and tracks for the instrumentals so they can turn down the volume on the instrument. Pop musicians can become famous without having the skills to rehearsed with the “big string section” they have hired to lend some gravitas to their “act”. They rely on the conductor to rehearse the musicians on music that has been written by someone else and recorded (both vocally and instrumentally) by someone else – then they go out on stage, bounce around and act up a storm, and the audience is none the wiser. They “Milli Vanilli” more often than not. Pop (popular) music is not Art – it is built on the cult of personality, not musicianship. There are a few I would except from the aforementioned, but the majority are complete fakes. I know. I have worked with them.

You don’t seem to understand, perhaps due to your youth, just how true elitism has in the past affected the British education system. Elitism in education was based on the belief that certain versions of just about everything (the Classical version of Music in this case) were suited only for a select group of people – that Art is too difficult for the average person to understand or enjoy and there is no point in wasting time and money exposing them to it. That elitism took form in the restriction of music education to students in Private Institutions of Learning. Thankfully British Aristocracy no longer governs your education system and there are attempts being made to rectify the inequality in British society between the “haves” and the “have nots” by considering every student worthy of exposure to and education about Classical Music. The general populace will always have access to “street jazz”, Pop and Rock, which come to them free over the airways and which require no introduction or instruction. They will always be able to go down to a friends garage and pretend to be the next Idol or Britain’s Most Talented. But it was Elitism that until now kept instruction in the Arts out of the education system for all but the aristocracy in their private schools. Every student should have the chance to learn about Classical Music (that which doesn’t have a “street” version) and any person who is perfectly happy to leave it to the children of the wealthy in the private schools is an ELITIST.

That makes me an egalitarian, for the benefit of certain ninnies.

You wouldn’t know elitism if it turned round and bit you on the nose.

[All emphases preserved from the original post]

Maritz raises a number of interesting questions and more than a little history of the British education system.

1. Is it ever appropriate to decide that some children shall be exposed to the arts, and other children denied the exposure? Is art wasted on certain people?

2. Considering the health benefits of classical music and art, is it ever appropriate to withhold classical music or art from someone?

3. Is relevance the same as easy access? Does that make McDonald’s food more relevant than organic food?

4. Is popular music built on musicianship, or as Maritz suggests, on the cult of personality? While it’s true that the cult of personality may exist in classical music for a few soloists, in general, most classical musicians toil away in relative obscurity. Is favouring the works of certain composers or artists the cult of personality?

A lot to digest, for certain. Leave a comment if you have an opinion!

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