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Music Is Not Entertainment


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For those interested in music, this is a refreshing perspective. Otherwise, it will probably bore you.


For some reason, this almost made me cry. I'm not a fraction of the musician this guy is, but I aspire to be as he writes here:




An excerpt:


From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of "arts and entertainment" as the newspaper section would have us believe. It's not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can't with our minds.


Some of you may know Samuel Barber's heart wrenchingly beautiful piece Adagio for Strings. If you don't know it by that name, then some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie Platoon, a film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn't know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what's really going on inside us the way a good therapist does.

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There's actually a very old argument amongst music historians that I remember from my youth. I generally referred to it back then as (my phasing entirely here) the "saddest piece of music debate". Barber's Adagio for Strings is often at the top (it's at the top of mine), but it's a long and distinguished list.


Dredging up some very old and tired neurons (who exclaimed "Why can't you just leave us alone?? Oh well, if you must, here you are, now GO AWAY!"), I came up with these other entries from the list:

- Albinoni's Adagio

- 2nd Movement of Beethoven's 7th symphony

- "Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis" by Ralph Vaughan Williams

- 2nd movement of Mahler's 10th Symphony

- One of the "Pavane" tunes was usually mentioned -- either Fauré or Ravel; I forget which


I can't for the life of me remember the last time I heard this discussion, but it would have been in the early 1980s (yikes!). I know it was used once as the subject for the traditional "experts quiz" during an intermission on NPR's "Live from the Metropolitan Opera" broadcast, which is where I first heard of it. That was in the debate's "operatic form", which is a little bit of a twist that adds arias into the potential pool for consideration. There are some REALLY SAD operas, but personally I've never felt that they quite work on the same level. They're usually sad because of the content more than the actual tonality of the music. A good example might be the "Sull'Aria" duet from Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro", which was famously used in the movie "The Shawshank Redemption" -- does it really sound sad, or is it that the tone of the music implies that the singers are sad? It's a subtle distinction, but I think it applies here.


For similar (but completely different) intellectual investigations of music, explore Beethoven's fascination with the C minor key.


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