I’m on the babysitting duty tonight (Shelby sleeps in our second bedroom, which doubles as the study/computer room), so I’ve got some more time to write some stuff.
Just wanted to follow up on the thoughts from last time. I might break this up into subsections, just to keep it from getting too unwieldy.
1. Range of Writing Styles on Music
First off, regarding Yvonne’s comment:
I think you maybe underestimate and over-generalise (esp. under “Problem 3″) regarding the range and humanity of writing about music available today.
I will admit, I was being a bit harsh there, and I’m happy to apologise for that comment. The sentiments were more based on the musical writing I’d been reading in the last couple of years, which has included some pretty atrocious stuff.
Certainly, if I think a bit broader, I have come across writers on music in recent years with some valuable insights that they have shared with great enthusiasm.
My bigger problem is quite simply that these insights, while they are valuable to me, are not valuable to my non-classical friends. And this is where I start to feel we have a hole in the musical world.
Moving on to point 2:
2. The Target Audience
Yvonne also said:
I think you perhaps do know who they’re aimed at, which is everyone who is attending the performance. Nothing less.
This is where I disagree, but again, I haven’t been to one of the performances at Yvonne’s work for a while (but I’ll be there Wednesday night!), so I’ll look forward to having a closer look at the concert guides there and hopefully the pre-concert talk, if I can get down there early enough. And it should be mentioned that Yvonne has blazed a trail in terms of getting helpful things like Glossaries in concert guides, which I think is a massive step forward.
But a lot of the liner notes and concert guides/programmes that I’ve come across in recent years still insist on using musical terminology that someone new to the classical music world wouldn’t have a chance of understanding.
So I would argue that these type of explanations are not aimed at everyone – they’re aimed at everyone who has the necessary pre-requisite musical knowledge. And it’s these particular explanations (which, in my opinion, still make up the majority of musical writing) that annoy me.
What I’d really like to see is more writing/introductions that takes someone from absolute scratch and lifts them up to the type of levels of experienced listeners, which was the type of solution I was proposing in the last post.
To be fair to writers and presenters over the last few decades, I think the current situation in musical explanation came about because 50-100 years ago, society taught people about music. A larger number of people would have studied music, and those who did study music would have learned about classical music in the process. With that type of educational background, writers wouldn’t have to start from scratch – they could assume a reasonable amount of knowledge would be known by their audiences.
Thus, George Grove, in his introduction to his book on Beethoven symphonies says that he’s writing for the amateur (in fact, he thought professional musicians would be bored stiff by the whole thing). But nonetheless, he assumes that his readers can read music, understand the basic structures of classical music, are fairly familiar with keys and tonalities, etc. Obviously, now, his book now would be less suitable for amateurs and more suited to academics and music students.
So there’s a clear shift in society that has occurred, with less and less people learning about classical music. The problem is that there hasn’t been a corresponding shift in the way musical explanations are written. A lot of these notes and explanations are still written as if their audiences have all the pre-requisite knowledge.
I’m doubtful that they do.
To my mind, if less people understand the basics of classical music, to keep the artform alive, we need to start at a lower basis point. By all means, still go into all the detail, and don’t skimp on the explanation. But also recognise that there are people out there who might need a hand up to get started.
Now, the bigger question that Ian raised is how to get people there in the first place. I think that will have to be another post . . .