Saturday, November 01, 2003

Teaching music

Kyle Gann has written an interesting piece (actually, all of his blog entries are interesting) on the teaching of music at university level, which reminded me of a piece his fellow Arts Journal blogger Greg Sandow wrote back in september and which I linked and responded to. Gann says:

But for music majors, understanding the details of, say, gamelan influence on Debussy requires some solid foundation in the theoretical basics, and the pressure we feel to turn out technically equipped young musicians leaves us with little time to reflect on what music tells the world about itself.

Just yesterday I got a quietly aggressive e-mail from a pianist about my mixed Tord Gustavsen review, suggesting that I lacked the musical knowledge to talk about the album. Regardless of the fact that I didn't criticise in any way Gustavsen's musical abilities (and lauded the trio's cohesion), Kyle Gann reminds us that the music is to be found beyond techniques and numbers. Not that these are unimportant (speaking from the listener's point of view, as of course they are of extreme importance to the musicians), but who cares if you use a fancy chord or crazy composite rhythm, if the result sucks?

A few years back I read the first few chapters of André Hodeir's seminal "Hommes et Problèmes du Jazz" and was struck by how, after having set down a detailled and hugely knowledgeable musicological descriptions of a Duke Ellington recording, he fell back on the same terms as every one else ("magnificent") to describe the music's impact. Not only that, but the musicological description gave very little idea as to why, really, the performance was magnificent.