what music cannot do

Let’s get this straight. Music cannot make peace.  Nor can it do anything else, except be what it is: ‘sui generis’.  The lion lying down with the lamb pacified by the Apollo’s lyre is a conceit hailing from antiquity. Maybe cows do produce milk better when they hear Mozart but all the high musical culture of the Germans did not put the brakes on the brutality of the Nazis. It may have given them even a sense of false cultural superiority.

On closer inspection, undimmed by the sentimental tear in the eye, played by the heartstring of “peace in our time–through music!!”,  nothing so much underscores the differences between peoples so much as cultural dispositions towards music.  There is a whole package of values that comes with music and its place in society– attitude towards teachers for instance, the almost godlike status of the ‘sensei’ in the Far East and the often skewed perceptions of what Western music is all about outside the West.

In a film documentary about chamber music in China, the American students were frustrated when the their counterparts didn’t show up for rehearsal. The excuse was that they don’t need to waste their precious time as self-declared soloists.  The question remains if these Chinese would be so cavaliere about showing up for rehearsals for their own music. This weird primadonnism is aided and abetted by their teachers who rachet up their students’ egos like Olympic coaches. And winning of course has been always devoutly desired by the communist bloc. Music for them is only a means to impress others and get prizes. Do what the teacher wants and you get positive reinforcement.

But that is not the function of music either.  The cut and paste quality of some of the recent Chinese pianists has been admitted by their teachers who put together  ‘interpretations’ that ‘work’ and even enabled one to win in a Chopin Competition.

There is more of a hint of cultural imperialism when having the utter nerve to harmonize Middle Eastern melodies with bad chords and call it ‘enrichment’.

Music for peace of course is transparent money making,  seliing the public a non-existent product for self-promotion. Somehow I find that patently indecent.

The magnificent, massive edifice of musical culture was built up by the work and sacrifice of so many. One can only be humble before it and feel only privileged to enter its portals.

The truly great Albert Schweitzer did not draw attention to himself. Instead, he retreated to Lambarene in Africa with the money he received for the Nobel Prize.

But music as great as it is, can support buffoons and frauds as well.

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