Economics, Theology and Music
by Jody Nagel
(Address to Ball State University Junior-level Music Majors, Form & Analysis class, June 19, 1997.)
As a liberal arts-oriented thinker, I believe that ALL subjects are intertwined and NOT disconnected. The current Music-Education bias of insisting on precise syllabus definitions, course outlines, and bite-sized daily doses of knowledge nuggets is absurd. It does not reflect intelligence, rather it reflects educator's misguided belief that their understanding of teaching methodology and teaching techniques can compensate for their lack of musical, or any other kinds of, knowledge. They may be able to spell a C-major scale with locutional eloquence, perfect body language posture, stunning eye contact, perfect pacing and with brilliant citations and authoritative references justifying their amazing abilities, but they can not hear the individual tones that make up the scale as they occur in real music, or account for the presence of that scale in a particular composition of even modest complexity. These people should not be allowed to teach music to ANYONE. Education majors that find distasteful "the act of learning" during their college stay, apparently plan to go on to teach the next generation of children. What are they? Sado-Masochistic? Inflicting on others what they themselves do not like? So much for "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." If these people find learning so distasteful, they should be locked away from society's children - not be the ones teaching them. Education Majors are the principal reason why I home school my own child.
Most public school band directors and choir directors and most church choir directors just create some kind of pleasant social environment for children, and they do not contribute to musical education at all. Children from these programs have their warm and fuzzy experiences and, since they believe that they are incapable of anything else, want to perpetuate that warm fuzzy feeling for the rest of their lives by themselves becoming a band or choir director. This kind of unfulfilled childish psychology has entrenched itself in American society for much of this century. These people do NOT represent music, rather, they are just a group of pathetic souls. Like a polio inoculation, that keeps people from ever catching polio, these people have just enough music to prevent them from ever being musicians.
What exactly is a musician? Plato, in his great work, "The Republic," said that all educated people should understand music. But he also said only the slaves and peasant classes should be musicians. Plato's words must seem awfully strange to most modern American schools of music. But they are deadly true. Music listeners do not hear embouchures or fingerings. They hear pitches, rhythms and timbres. To be educated in music is to understand, reflect and ponder these relationships as they exist over time within music. To be educated in embouchures and fingerings is to be an instrumental technician. Why is it so rare that one is educated in both? Because our ignorant culture makes no distinction between art and entertainment; people think that art should pay for itself just as does entertainment. (Historically, art has almost never paid for itself.) Now, however, people are reluctant to spend tax dollars on what they believe to be irrelevant. In part they are correct; entertainment is irrelevant. Art is totally relevant, though. Entertainment causes one to escape from their humanity for awhile. Art causes one to embrace his or her humanity, to recognize the capacities and limits of their own perceptual powers, to feel with greater understanding, and to think with more feeling. But this is not the province of a modern American music educator. How can this be? The Junior high-school band director, worried about his or her quickly approaching fall concert, worried about the shrinking tax base for his or her band program, worried about making a good impression on the School Board so that he or she can be promoted someday to the Senior high school band-directorship, doesn't have time to worry about what sensibilities are taking shape in little Johnny's head, or what thought-feeling relationships are occurring in little Sally's mind. This educator just has to put on their big event. So this educator worries about embouchures or fingerings as a quick fix to getting the concert to happen at least minimally all right, considering none of the players can hear anything. So the children remain musically illiterate. They graduate. They go to college. They become music majors. They graduate, again. They become directors. And the cycle perpetuates forever. These people are not musicians.
Meanwhile, the audience gets so used to irrelevantly performed music that they assume that music is irrelevant. The audience can not hear with discernment anymore, because of this. The instrumental technicians can not hear. They are all deafer than Beethoven. Why does anyone bother performing music anymore, considering how irrelevant it has become.
Music majors should be required to put down their instruments and do nothing but listen to, and think about, music for 2 years at least. When they have become musicians, they could then resume their instrument practice. The root word of musician is music. It is not embouchure! When an instrumentalist become a musician, it is a happy day indeed.
But it is highly doubtful that this will occur in our culture. As I often have said, capitalism represents the death of Art and Education. The average high-school band director living in our capitalist world of competition, does not teach music, but simply instrument usage. He or she does not have time to teach music, even presuming he or she was capable of teaching music.
Plato also said that the character of a nation is determined by the kind of music to which it listens. This is very true today. People tune out music and desensitize themselves to art. Therefore they desensitize themselves to an aspect of themselves. People alienated from their own humanity can not solve the problems of humanity. While society continues to listen to garbage, it will continue to live in a garbage society filled with crime, absurd magnitudes of greed and selfishness, ineffective government leadership, and disregard for the natural environment; with the legalized lying and brainwashing that is politely called "marketing," and with the treatment of other people as objects rather than fellow subjects. Now, understanding music is the only means possible to escape from the single greatest controlling force in commercialism, namely commercial music based primarily on the artificial perpetuation of the stylistic features of late '60's hard rock. For example, if one understands the relationship of two major triads with roots a minor third apart, one can not be duped into the subconscious "cool" syndrome that this harmony usually elicits in unwitting listeners. And if one is free from having to worry about being "cool" in our youth-dominated society, one is free indeed! Plato said that only slaves and peasants should be musicians. The statement is still equally true, but in reverse. Musically-illiterate instrumentalists are slaves along with all the rest of society to those corporate powers that wish to remain in power, that continue to profit from this miserable state of affairs, and that want the masses to remain musically illiterate so that they can be controlled through music. If Hitler had had this modern marketing weapon, he would have won World-War II hands down. Somewhere or another I once heard "you shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free. Nowadays REAL music education is the only way to BE free. But this country has no REAL music education, and the continuous crop of music majors do not want it. They prefer their enslaved positions, and would rather not rock the boat.
Moving on: It's strange to me how many students I meet in colleges that would like to think of themselves as devoted to their particular monotheistic-oriented church, and yet never consider the relationship between their religion and what they believe about economics, politics, social structures, art or music. Consider an economic analysis of the following. "A man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostle's feet." (Acts 5) Well, to make a long story short, Ananias fell down and died and so did Sapphira, apparently struck down by God because of the truth of Peter's admonishment. Their sin was lying. But what had they lied about? Holding back some, instead of all, of their money gained from property which they sold purportedly so they could give that money to the church. The first century-Christian church was, from an economic point-of-view, a Communistic body. People did not yet give 10% tithes, but EVERYTHING, to the church. And did Peter ask for a vote from the people to see if God should strike down Ananias and Sapphira? No way! The early church was, from a political point-of-view, a REPUBLIC, run by a subset group of leader-elders. It was NOT a democracy. The early Church was a Communist Republic, and this is the model documented in the New Testament as the superior form of economics and politics. How absurd when former Brittish Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher makes statemensts that, though a Republic is a good idea, it corrupts too easily and therefore we should settle for democracy as a second best. Ah, excuse me God, your devine plan doesn't quite work, so we're going to do it this other way instead, OK? . . . There is not a trace of capitalism or democracy to be found in the early Christian church, and yet modern American so-called Christians think Capitalism and Democracy are God-given rights. Capitalism is the death of art because of greed, and democracy is the death of art because of stupidity.
Ah, but why should a modern monotheist care about art? Let's consider the following: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1); and "God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness" (Genesis 1:26.) About that first statement: something about creating the heavens and the earth! One must deduce that God must be pretty darn creative. Last time I checked, no one else I know could do that. And gee, one is supposed to be created in the likeness of God. Ah, that makes humans creative, too, I guess. Creative persons do not owe society an explanation as to why they are creative. Rather, society owes them an explanation as to why most people are taught to become so stiflingly uncreative!
Let's think about God and creativity for a moment. How 'bout that creating those heavens and earth thing! So, do you think it went someth'n like this: One day God was hanging around all his fellow deities, and they were comparing creations. You know, parallel universes, and such. Each God made lots of them. In fact there was kind of a Creation Hit Parade happenin.' "Hey, did you see the latest release? Loved those rivers and mountains." "The trees were kinda nice." "Yea, but they were too similar to last month's trees in God No. 178's 14th creation." "But that only reached number 18 on the creation Top 40. "Yea, But you know, the swamps were kinda neat; never saw swamps before." "Ah, every god tucks swamps in somewhere! But what did ya think about those people with only five fingers on each of their hands." Ahh, people are boring, I was more impressed with the particularly good caves and plate tectonics." "Ah, Geez! It's all been done before."
Does this perhaps sound just a little bit ridiculous?!! Could it be, that in our sense of those words "God created the Heavens and Earth" we realize that creation is singular; unique; special; without parallel. None of it matters if there are lots of these creation-things. And here we are, supposedly creative beings ourselves, even if only on a more human magnitude. And how do we express our creativity? By being the same as everybody else. The church choir directors that add their sickening MIDI synthesizers with 4/4 drum track accompaniments, so that modern monotheists can attend those good ol' church services with a degree of musical familiarity to their more usual philosophy of greed-based commercialism. In 1997 America, Rock music in church represents the single biggest slap-in-the-face to all that stand for divine creativity. Any form of banal repetition of the making of one song after the other, all with the same stylistic elements, denies the very essence of being human.
Those of you that have more humanistic or atheistic perspectives, I presume, have pleasantly enjoyed the above arguments. Of course, you find yourselves to be above those silly mythological explanations. You have transcended that superstitious thought pattern, and, of course, are intellectually far better off than your religious counterparts. Then why do you listen to the same drivel that they do? Now that you are so sophisticated, why aren't you listening to sophisticated music?
If you want a small taste of the divine within man, you must find those objects that are singular; unique; special; without parallel. Seek out Bach's B-minor mass, and Beethoven's 9th symphony. Luxuriate in the counterpoint of Palestrina, and learn the limits of your own emotions with Stravinksy's Rite of Spring. Find the extent of your intellect in Stockhausen's Kontakte, and the poetry within your soul in Chopin' piano preludes. Do even more, create your own music and be as unique as you can be. If you fail at becoming an historically significant composer, SO WHAT! You will have succeeded at being a human being. If composition does not interest you, paint pictures, grow flower gardens, build beautiful buildings. Or just sit in your chair, but do it YOUR OWN WAY! Stop being bought by people that profit from your remaining mediocre. BE FREE! As you were designed to be. BE FREE! in your attitudes, your tastes, your beliefs, your thoughts. Study the great art of the past and our own times and learn the minds of other FREE people. Learn that the discipline of studying past greatness, will develop your own individuality, and propensity towards greatness within your own life. Work hard not because you are forced to, but because you are free to. It is quite simple for you music majors, MUSIC = FREEDOM. You embrace both or neither. Seek and ye shall find. Don't seek and you won't find anything. You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you FREE!
And be music majors.
Dr. Jody Nagel
June 18, 1997
Nagel was at that time Assistant Professor of Music Theory and Composition at Ball State University.
He is now Associate Professor at BSU.