Statement to Music Majors
by Jody Nagel
Please take note: Based on past statistics, the extent that you listen to commercial "pop music" (i.e., "Top 40," "Hard Rock," "Country," "Contemporary Christian," "Rap," and other types of drum-set-based simple song-forms) will be the extent that you perform poorly within this class. For the duration of this semester, I challenge you (by honor system) to "just say No" to the mind control and mental brainwashing of the commercial music world. This music has been manufactured based on rules designed by Wall Street Marketing "Experts," and radio stations are instructed to play those songs that are "intended" to become hits. The music is designed to become "old" after only a few months (which is known as "disposable art"), designed to be resurrected as an "Oldie" after a few years, and then utterly forgotten. It's sole purpose is to convince you that you should deny your own individuality and be part of the masses, and that you should buy recordings so that recording companies can make more money. It has nothing at all to do with art. The "rules" of commercial music, as defined on Wall Street by around 1972, are as follows:
- Meter - Must be in 4/4 (or rarely 12/8, as in a "rock waltz"). Triple meter, such as 3/4, and composite meters, such as 5/4 or 7/8, are not allowed. Meter changes are not allowed.
- Tempo - Must remain constant through out. No accelerandi or ritardandi or sudden tempo changes (excepting an occasional slower introduction.)
- Rhythm - No polyrhythms. Complex rhythms discouraged, discounting the "freedom" of vocal inflection. Once a "groove" is established, it should never be altered.
- Form - Only Song Forms, verse/chorus-based. (Period.) No Sonatas, Rondos, Through-Composed or Extended forms.
- Duration - It had been required that a song be between 2.5 and 3.5 minutes in duration, but that apparently got a little too long for the current sound-byte oriented times. Thus the duration of a song must now be between 2 and 3 minutes.
- Key - Once a key is established, it must never be altered (i.e., No modulation allowed), except near the end of a Barry Manilo-style pop song, where, near the end of the song, the last verse may have its key raised by one step (and only that interval.)
- Mode - Only Major, Natural Minor, Mixolydian, Dorian, "Black-key" Pentatonicism, and Blues Scales are acceptable in commercial music. Phrygian and Lydian are very rare, as are Heptatonia Secunda Modes. Forget the Harmonic or Melodic Minor Scales. Octatonic and Whole-Tone scales are not allowed. Other types of pentatonicism are not allowed. Extended chromaticism and "dodecaphonic" techniques are forbidden.
- Harmony - Only major and minor triads allowed. No more than 30% minor triads, lest the song become too "sad." (A slightly higher percentage is allowed in Country music.) No secondary dominants, no augmented or diminished triads, no augmented sixth chords, no half-diminished or fully-diminished seventh chords. The one relatively interesting current development in certain types of rock and rap is the occasional abandonment altogether of harmony, in favor of noise-based sounds, such as was already done in the beginnings of avant garde electronic music from about 1948 through the late 1960's.
- Texture - Solo melody + chords + simple bass line. no 3-, 4-, 5 or more-, part counterpoint allowed. Even true 2-part counterpoint is not allowed. Thus, no Fugues, no Inventions, no Canons, no Polyphonic Works. Imitation, in general, is rare.
- Development - No development of any sort allowed. No Thematic Transformation. No Variation Technique.
- Timbre (Orchestration) - Voice is required. (Pure Instrumental "pop music" is almost unheard of.) 4/4 Drum track is required. Instruments may include various types of guitars and/or keyboards. Other Percussion instruments can be used to add stylistic type cliché. (i.e.; bongos, marimbas, etc.) Woodwinds and Brass may only be infrequently used as solo lines, never in full orchestral sections. Strings may be used only if layered over the rest of the band, but never as a solo section. Now, most "Strings" are played as a Keyboard-sampled sound. It's ironic that rock bands are beginning once again to employ more types of acoustic instrumental sounds, with the advent of sampling keyboards, so they can have more types of timbre without having to pay trained musicians.
- Dynamics - One basic dynamic level per song. No crescendi or diminuendi. No sudden extreme dynamic changes.
In other words, nothing of interest is allowed! Music must be reduced to the simplest elements, on all fronts. While it is true that every description listed above can be found to apply individually to the various musics of the past, it is equally true that, only in our time do, all these descriptions apply to all current commercial music all the time.
The mind-numbing mentally-dulling effect that this has on people effectively turns them into willing consumers, which is what the commercial world wants. This is why you are not capable of being free from this music; it is found in every restaurant, mall, clothing store, airport, exercise and aerobics center, gas station, convenience store, grocery store, commercial television and radio advertisement, telephone "on hold" system, doctor's office, amusement park and fairgrounds, swimming pool, and worst of all, in the secretaries' offices of the various divisions within the BSU School of Music, College of Fine Arts. You are no longer free to conduct your life outside of the presence of this type of music. Please understand that this music has only been used in this way for the past 2 1/2 decades. Commercial music came into existence with the invention of the phonograph and radio in the late 19th century; prior to this, for about a million years, there was no actual music "object" that could be directly sold to the public. People used to be required to be in the presence of music-making in order to hear music. It has only been relatively recently that music has been turned into a sonic drug, to which people become addicted. Prior to the harnessing of electricity and steam engines, music was special, rare, and had to be sought out, since otherwise, besides the sounds of nature, people were surrounded by continuous silence. Now, commercial music addicts forfeit their free will, their decision-making ability, their creative potential, their humanity. The problems of the world will not be solved by American commercial music addicts (which, at this point, seems to be just about all Americans) any more than it would by cocaine addicts.
Let's face it: the U.S. military used loudly amplified hard rock to blast Noriega in Panama during the 80's. Hard rock was blasted from helicopters in the Vietnam war to terrorize the local people. In the spring of 1997, a South American government used amplified hard rock to disorient radical terrorists holding Japanese hostages. And a few months later the United Nations Council on Human Rights decreed that Israel was not allowed to continue blasting hard rock at their Palestinian captives as a form of torture. How is it that the governments of the world covertly use amplified rock as a weapon and a form of torture, while Americans do not recognize that this weapon is being used against themselves, in an economic war of mind control, rather than of military-based physical destruction. Rock music is a mind-desensitizing drug, a type of weapon, not a type of art. Now, selfish people blast their stereos from their cars, at parks and beaches, and in their homes, as a way of establishing territory (or "turf," if you please) just like dogs urinating on trees. At worst, they dare you to challenge them to turn it down by their looks of hate and indifference, and, at best, they are oblivious to the effects of their selfishness on their fellow man. Around the world, Fine Art was the invention of Aristocracy and of Religious Institutions. It is a product of Monarchy and Totalitarianism. It can not truly flourish within the contemporary commercial world, since there is no longer Authority-Commanding-Greatness-From-The-Few, but simply Commercial-Power-Demanding-Profit-From-The-Masses. Conversely, the aristocracy and/or church rarely created , or even understood, musical rules for the creation of new music (with some notable exceptions, such as the famous Council of Trent, 1545-63); they just demanded that the music be highly crafted. Whereas music theorists deduce older composer's self-created rules AFTER the music was created, modern marketing techniques dictate which rules must be followed BEFORE the music is made, and, so that they have a chance of "making it," every young would-be band or "pop-musician" internalizes these rules without question. If art is to continue, it must do so within the hearts and minds of individuals who utterly reject commercial influence. At the moment, there is no fine art, no art-music, but simply the audio and video components of capitalism. Apparently, Art is dead within the hearts of men. Art exists so that one can embrace more fully his or her humanity; Entertainment exists so that one can escape temporarily from his or her humanity. Once again, I challenge you to take a stand, to claim your rights as a human being, to reject the commercial brainwashing with which you are supposedly defined as being "cool," but, by which you are actually being reduced to the level of lemmings. Just say no to commercial music, at least for the duration of this semester. Prove to me that you are NOT addicted to this mindlessness by willingly giving it up for a few months. (Addicts are incapable of giving up that to which they are addicted.) Instead, choose to listen to any of the infinity of musical possibilities : Balinese Gamelan Music, Gregorian Chants, Electronic Music, Indian Ragas, Chinese Opera, String Quartets, Japanese Gagaku, American Jazz, 14th-century French Folk Songs, Mid-20th-century Avant Garde Serialism, German Lieder, Traditional North American Indian Music, 19th-century Symphonies, the music of Scottish Bagpipes, Operas, Piano music, Choral Music of the Renaissance, Spanish Classical Guitar Music, Late 20th-century American Minimalism, Baroque Organ Music, Film Scores from the Golden Age of Hollywood, South American Wood Flute Music, or anything OTHER than what the commercial world wants you to listen to!
Please notice, music majors, that I do not address the issue, at all, of the poor quality and often immoral nature of the lyrics in current commercial music. The people who study literature and poetry will have to worry about that. I would like you to consider that the vast majority of commercial music is performed by people with no training. They are the opposite of everything you are supposedly studying to become. Only in recent times has this level of inexpertness been accepted and praised and glorified by music listeners. No other field tolerates such a situation. When you wish to drive over a bridge, you hope it is sturdy and built by expert engineers; not do-it-yourself amateurs. When you seek medical treatment you wish to have the most highly skilled doctor you can find; not children playing doctor. When seeking legal advice, you choose an attorney with a reputation for high legal qualifications; not a quack. Why is it with music, the public (EVEN Music Majors) listen to music produced by untrained performers without musical skill or knowledge, while world-class musical artists suffer from lack of an audience. This is an unacceptable state of reality. It is up to each of you individually to take a stand for what is right, and to have your eventual degree in music mean anything at all. For now, I repeat, Just say no to commercial music. I also repeat, based on past statistics, the extent that you listen to commercial music will be the extent that you perform poorly within this class.
Dr. Jody Nagel
written August 26, 1996
revised December 2, 1997