The Devaluation of Music: It’s Worse Than You Think
Craig Havighurst

This article/discussion has struck a chord (pun totally intended). I’m seeing this article pop up in my FB feed quite a bit recently, but I just can’t join in on the hand-wringing.

Here’s what I think:

1) Instrumental musicians are far better trained today, than they were half a century ago. They can play things that were considered impossible in previous generations (The Kodaly Cello Sonata and Janos Starker, for example). I listen to recordings, classical or popular, and I hear all kinds of wrongness in iconic recordings from the “golden age” (intonation, rhythmic issues, annoying songwriting, etc.).

2) I teach music education at a small liberal arts college and our music education program here has a 100% job placement rate, and we’re a small program. And anecdatally, there’s a shortage of music educators around the country. I also know that the institution where I did my graduate degrees has had a 100% job placement rate for the last 50 years for graduates of the music education program (at the bachelors, masters, and doctoral levels).

3) Yes, “classical” music has found a home in film and video games, but I think that’s a good thing. It is subliminally expanding the ear of the listener, preparing them aurally for the more complicated forms of “art” music. Stravinsky was grating to the average listener back at the beginning of the 20th century, but now audiences clamor for his dissonances (harmonic and rhythmic) — as the aural language becomes part of the musical vernacular, it becomes easier to hear.

4) I hate iTunes for so many reasons, but the if I need to know more about a recording, I go find it on the intarwhebs.

5) Pop music is incredibly simple. I even hesitate to call it music because it’s so simple, but I think the artistry has moved from the composer’s/lyricist’s/artist’s bailiwick, to the domain of the producer and recording engineer. I marvel at how well produced and sonically interesting songs are today. I’ve attempted to deconstruct pop tunes and aside from the stupidly simple chord progressions and the banal lyrics, I’m fascinated by the layers and layers of sounds and aural manipulations of the material. I don’t think we should solely blame pop musicians for having found the common denominator of what stimulates us (e.g. the “drop”) and then exploiting it.

However, I am worried about classical music because we haven’t done such a great job of educating the general population about why and how it’s great. I can make a difference there, so I’ll do that.

The other issue I have, and I’m perfectly guilty of it, is the ghetto-ization of music. With so many streaming services available, we only listen to what we like and don’t have our sonic brains stretched much. It’s not dissimilar to the extreme political polarization we’re seeing in our citizenry.