Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bankrupt Symphonys Are Confounded 11

I like that post from the former director of the Honolulu Symphony.  It's intelligent.  It sounds fair minded.  He does historical research and makes good comparisons with other troubled symphonies.  In MBA academic terms, his analysis is at least a "B" as a "case study."

But he misses the boat as well as the beat.

He missed this insight:  “No degree of dullness can safeguard a work against the determination of critics to find it fascinating.” – Harold Rosenberg, Discovering the Present, 1973

And his organization counted a little too much on this exact kind of laziness:  “The number of those who undergo the fatigue of judging for themselves is very small indeed.” – Richard Brinsley Sheridan, The Critic or a Tragedy Rehearsed, 1779

Bartok, Hindemith and Shostakovitch ushered in ugly music.  People were told (by academics and by the voices supporting Soviet Realism) that ugly is beautiful.  Ugliness serves a social function, it helps make us aware of social injustice.  It helps identify and banish counter-revolutionary forces.  Ugliness is often "true."

But ugly isn't beautiful.  And it is never music.  Let me explain that in two parts.

FIRST PART:  let me give you the answer to Pilate's question.  Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?" and "Jesus answered him not."  That's a good answer, especially considering the kangaroo court in which the question was posed.  But it is still an honest question.  So let me give you the answer (please blog a comment if you disagree).  Truth is a STORY that REMAINS worth telling (because it contains the power of figurative truth).  If it's really truth, genuinely, divinely, heroically, valorously true, that it will be told after the nation is conquered, after the religion and language die, after millennia have passed.

The greatest body of such ancient truths consists of Greek mythology.  There is no more ancient Greek language.  They lost their empire to the Romans.  The Romans imitated the Greek religion but changed it at will and ultimately the entire Roman empire was Christianized.

But Greek mythology never died out.  Some of the oracles actually became Christian saints (!).  The myths themselves continued to be told, openly and widely once the Renaissance and movable type changed things.  Shakespeare himself mentions Greek and Romanized Greek gods and goddesses all the time.  We have planets and constellations named after them, as well as human moods and sentiments.  Alone, standing above all the approximately 3,000 religions in human history, Greek mythology has become the central model for a science.  More than that, it is the model for two sciences, both psychiatry and psychology.  What other religion has attained this status?  Ever?  Anywhere?

Greek mythology is a story that remains worth telling for thousands of years.  So we can count on it to be true.  It's lasting truth, useful truth, figurative truth.

SECOND PART:  What does Greek mythology tell us about music?

Well, first of all, "music" is a Greek word.  Originally, it meant "from the Muses," and this is an astonishing thing.  The more you know about this, the more astonishing it is.  According to the Greeks, there are nine major Muses.  They are always talking to each other.  They will gather around us humans and talk, especially if we are practicing or developing skills, or telling stories, or trying to understand the night sky, or in love, or in a state of grief.

But we don't understand what they say, because we don't know their language.  Instead we hear music, the language of the Muses.

In the arena of Greek mythology, a music "composer" has the blessed job of reproducing what he hears on instruments, including such things as the lyre Hermes made as a gift to Apollo (instead of giving Apollo his cattle back!).  That lyre is the trademark of Steinway, by the way.

A composer is a transcriber of what the Muses have talked about in his practicing presence.

The Greeks tell us particularly about nine muses:  Calliope (the Muse of eloquence and epic poetry), Clio (the Muse of history), Euterpe (the Muse of music and lyric poetry), Melpomene (the Muse of tragedy), Terpsichore (the Muse of dancing), Erato (the Muse of erotic lyric poetry), Polyhymnia (the music of sacred poetry and hymns), Urania (the Muse of astronomy; a planet is named for this Muse), and Thalia (the Muse of comedy and pastoral poetry; Thalia is also one of the three Graces).

Isn't there something just a little bit eerily familiar about this list?  Don't we know these inspirations already, just a little bit?  These nine girls are all the daughters of Mneme under the name Mnemosyne (which is memory itself!) and Zeus (the ultimate power over the earth's land).

Get it?  Music is "the next generation" of MEMORY married to POWER.  We remember songs better and faster than we do speeches or directions, don't we?  Please post a comment if you find the Greek genesis of music to be false.

From the Internet:

"There are still more Muses; some overlooked in the original listings (like Cindy, Muse of Other) and others even now being born. I'm not even going to get into their genealogy.

"The Muses can bestow the gift of talent and insight. They can also revoke their blessings.  One story says that a singer and poet named Thamyris challenged the Muses. He mocked them and made light of their skills. For his insolence, Thamyris was maimed and lost his memory. He could no longer remember his songs, his poems, or where he left his drinking jug."
And that, my dear blog readers, is what happened to the Honolulu symphony.  They lost their memory.  Is any one of the Muses ugly?  Which speaks vilely or sarcastically?  Which is discordant?
None.  These are the dancers at the annual festival of the Gods on Olympus.  They dance when Zeus puts down his bow and plucks the lyre Hermes made expressly for him.
If an ancient Greek mythologist, who spent his lifetime telling Homer's stories, came upon rap music, what would he say?  I think he'd say, "this is drumming for funerals and war, but it isn't music."  If that storyteller came across punk rock, I think he'd say, "this is drumming for an initiation ceremony, but it isn't music."  If he came across a pianist playing the absurd atonal modern music of the twentieth century, he would wait until the end of the performance, walk to the piano, stare at the lyre trademark of the Steinway, and ask, "Why did you bother to even tune this instrument?"
The mistake of the Honolulu Symphony is a mistake of memory.  Soviet Realism sought to destroy memory.  It deservedly failed.
Our overall model for analysis is going to be a story about qualitative power (the Sea of Quiddity) and the attainment of intellectual power (through Nuncio, the Messenger) as told by Clive Barker in The Great and Secret Show, itself a long and brilliant tale very much modeled on the millennial truths of Greek mythology.  So Barker's story came back to me when I meditated urgently enough upon the musical parallel universes.
Anybody want to go on an intellectual roller coaster ride with me?  That's what the future posts of this blog rae like.  You can scream and fidget all you want without anyone complaining nor laughing at you.


  1. I think you could've gone further and said that the "ugly" school of music likes to bully people. You buy a subscription to the symphony based on the program selection, but no matter which selection you choose, the symphony will make sure you MUST get tickets for one ugly show.

    For me one year, it was a ticket that juxtaposed Beethoven's 5th with a, hey, World Premier!, of a Wernick concerto. I t was so bad i walked out. Imagine a room full of second graders with no musical training asked to make a whole lot of noise on these instruments. That's Wernick. I felt cheated by the NSO. That concert was not an option, it was attached to ALL subscription schedules. Because they knew NO ONE would want to see it. And how else did they lure you--by teaming it with the perennially popular 5th.

    Paying audiences don't like to be bullied. American consumers in particular don't like being told what they HAVE to buy or HAVE to like. The people who applauded Wernick's concerto were a handful art snobs and a few hundred people who thought if they didn't they would be considered philistines, so they better go along and pretend to know what's going on.

  2. Couple more comments about bullying:

    Ugly music lovers seek public funding for their work because it would never survive commercially, no matter what kind of marketing backs it up. It would be easier to sell shit in a cow pasture than sell modern classical music. The public funding is often used to put on public performances, for free, in parks, community centers, shopping malls, museums, etc., where passersby will be forced to listen to it, because these people feel like they have to "educate" the public about it.

    If they can't get public funding, they cry censorship.. But it's not censorship. The government doesn't say they can't make the music, they just don't give them money for it. Sure they can make it, and if anyone will buy it, they can sell it. What they demand is support and acknowledgment for their farts and bleeps.

    People who fail to take to their music are ridiculed and derided as uncultured.

    Analogs can be found in all the other arts proffering schlock as culture--fine arts, theater, photography, and film.

    In a truly free society, almost anything can pass as free expression or "art". Thus pornography peddlers can find protection under the First Amendment and a have a thriving industry. But many "artistic" photographers and filmmakers can't earn a living, because what they produce is even worse than pornography--it fulfills no basic or essential human need. So no one buys it. They blame the public for being ignorant or stupid.

    In this regard, i commend Hollywood. Being profit driven filmmaking, they make films people will pay to see, which means they must fulfill some basic human need, either ethereal or banal, and they deliver it. Sure they make a lot of "bad" movies, but they make a lot of good movies too. And the argument that they don't produce enough arthouse, existential, in comprehensible, story-less films is really just the negative quiddity filmmakers saying "we demand our piece of the pie whether we deserve it or not! We're not greedy money grubbing film producers, we just want a lot of money for the crap we produce too!" The sheer hypocrisy of it is appalling.

    I think there is some truth to the statement "Art is what sells." It shows a connection with human consciousness.