These readings described two typical entities who are charged with the wonderful task of making arguments about music. Analysts look at our craft usually from an academic standpoint, usually for other musicians to read and for the purpose of understanding music from a technical standpoint. Critics/music journalists also make arguments, but their job is to rely information to the regular concertgoer who didn’t study at music school for 6+ years (minimum). As well intentioned as this bridging of the gap is, sometimes it falls short from explaining music satisfactorily to the audience, and some authors are very vocal about this fact. Spoiler alert: even in academic analysis we never make fully-satisfactory claims about the craft. At the end of the readings we had a good example of music journalism: Claims about music made from a journalistic standpoint (AKA a “Critic”). This critic (AKA “journalist) made a few claims about the current state of music as an art and as a business. That said, let’s get right into this!
Although I hate dry readings, I must confess I found the readings on Analysis and Criticism very rewarding. I, as well as Keehun, Craig, Dallas, and James, have spent the last few weeks talking about the practice itself of musical analysis in our Analytical Techniques class (affectionately known as Anal. Tech.) (:-P), so I would rather weigh in and expand on the discussion of the concept of the “Musical Analysis” rather than just respond to this reading.
In Analytical Techniques we spent a considerable amount of time discussing just what it meant to Analyze music, and after discussion we came to the realization that what we’re trying to achieve is a communication of a certain musical experience (Yes! Even the gray I-ii6-N6-V-I type of analysis tries to communicate a certain experience!). It gets tricky: being music SOOO subjective to begin with, how could we expect to make claims about how we experience a certain piece AND at the same time convince people about it? This vast difference about how we perceive musical experiences is what causes our grandparents to go:
A technique like Schenkerian Analysis sought to standardize how we explain harmonic prolongation in common-practice music, and it’s all dandy — until we realize that a Schenkerian approach would usually render our analysis dissatisfactory. If everything is about just I, V, I, scale degrees 3, 2, 1, then music really SUCKS.
The article makes a reference to the use of hermeneutics, which is, I think, what we’re looking for when understanding a piece. Not “what does this piece mean,” but “HOW does this piece mean?” entails that we’re not trying to convince people of how great a piece is by proving insight into the dry architecture beneath it, but how does it move us and makes us happy, sad, angry, or what.
While music analysis is a process that starts by the power of the analyst and is a RESPONSE to a piece of music, musical criticism is –usually– a REACTION of somebody who gets paid to do it. Can we see where this is going?
The article on Music Criticism defines some of the issues with the profession, although like a good Schenker graph, fails to articulate the visceral response of apprehension musicians have towards the practice.
I am in the same camp of Ted Gioia: for music criticism to be worth anything, the critics should make it a point to make the criticism objective, craft-focused, and looking at quality. But are we not venturing into the realm of musical analysis then? As far as I understand it, music criticism is, after all, for the non-technical reader, as was “American Idol” not a show for music experts, but for people who just got home from work and want a little bit of entertainment to chill for a bit. Gioia’s depressing afternoon was earned and looked for: If he wanted a more satisfying analysis of music, popular periodicals weren’t the place to look for it.
Of course critics need to use “badass,” “hot,” “sexy” to talk about musicians! These are the terms that the general public is using to refer to their artists. And I am totally not saying this to defend critics, but rather as a means to understand why they act like this. I think people won’t understand a higher-level commentary of music simply because people won’t talk to them like that. For a baby to expand their vocabulary, their parents need to talk to them all the time, so they learn by exposure. I think the general market should grow their musical palate by exposure as well, and critics should help by making the conversation a little bit more elevated (just a tad bit). Of course this reasoning also entails that the public won’t understand why something sucks (a poorly-played guitar solo or a drummer who can’t play very well) if the ones who have the “voice” won’t articulate it for them.
Mr. Soller Seltz drives a point home applying Gioia’s rant about lack of technical knowledge about the craft to filmmaking: Dude, if you’re going to put something out there criticizing a piece of work, then really make sure you’ve got the chops to know what is REALLY going on with the piece. This makes perfect sense… but at the same time the critic should be really careful: the profession should be about finding a sweet spot in between being technical about the critique, enough that you honor the craft, but also explaining what you think about it in layman’s terms.
Mr. Havighurst makes, I think, a great point when he mentions that the importance of music in the schools is not because of it’s side-effects for other things. One time I read an op-ed about how people should really stop making the case for music as if it were important because of its consequences (e.g. that “music makes kids smarter” argument the author depicted), but rather just because it’s music! So here we’d have another way for the non-musician to understand quality, and at the same time we’d be making the world a better place. I do not agree that video game music has hurt the industry though: If anything it has allowed people to get exposed to orchestral music.
I can understand where the Havighurst’s arguments that digitization of music creates a problem for the value of music, but I disagree: Access to music allows people to get exposed to it more, but I seriously do not think it negates value. If anything, what we ought to do is inform people on how to improve their music-listening habits (hint hint: a better support for music school programs could help). I do see how Commercial Radio has become some part of the problem, but I think that medium doesn’t have much more than 50 years left, tops: as long as you can listen to the music on your smartphone on your car, why listen to radio (aside from NPR)? I might be living in a bubble and be wrong, so take what I say with a grain of salt. If anything, commercial radio is the perfect vehicle for the music played therein, commercial music.
I’m not an expert in Jazz, so I won’t discuss Jazz. However, I think Art music lost its seat at the table when composers chose that public taste didn’t matter (“they just don’t know anything!” “who cares if you listen?”) and then the genre just went out of the loop, as if you’d jumped out of a train moving 200 miles an hour. That train is gone, baby.
I think that like critics, composers should also consider looking inwards to find a sweet spot between technically-rewarding work, and work that audiences can understand: At the end, if music is expression, then we also ought to make sure our expression is interpreted by someone too, right? Otherwise we’re just the mentally-ill person who stands at the intersection yelling whatever and nobody listens to. Composers will say that they’re ok if nobody listens — I do think they care and just lie to themselves when they say this (I’ve seen many severely hurt when performers or audiences don’t like their stuff). This said, I think the composer’s role should work similarly to the critic, but the other way around: While the critic should ideally balance a connection with general audiences and sprinkle it with a little bit of technical knowledge in order to educate, the composer should ideally balance their handling of technical knowledge about our craft and sprinkle with a little bit of care for their listener and performer.