I Think I Might Start Listening To Radiohead

Everybody thinks the music they listen to is superior. Even the people who don’t think they have an arrogance about the music they listen to are (perhaps) fooling themselves. I’d like to be the first to say that I certainly do–or did, maybe, have this arrogance.

During my first two years at College of DuPage, I had this viewpoint that classical music was the most articulate and sophisticated form of music. Particularly during my second year, when I had this one music theory professor. This guy was a real renaissance man of music. Not only did he know practically everything you could ever want to know about music (ranging from all genres, history, performers, composers, recording techniques, etc.), he could actually play, too–he played gigs on weekends as a keyboard player.

I always enjoyed going to his class. He had entertaining stories and interesting viewpoints. Occasionally, he’d rant on the ‘state of music’, as it were. He’d talk about how, ‘tonality is dead’, ‘pop music is garbage’, ‘composers were not worshiped in their day’, etc. I’m even a member of this Facebook group that’s dedicated to his quotes. Check it out here.

His thinking influenced me a great deal, and I adopted many of his viewpoints as my own. I, too, began to have this chip on my shoulder about pop music; or really, anything that wasn’t classical. What an idiot I was! A close friend of mine endured some of my obstinate rantings about ‘Why Classical Music Is So Great and Everything Else Is Just Crap,’ which curiously mirrored some of my aforementioned professors thoughts.

This friend took all the wind out of my musical sails and pointed out to me how dogmatic I was being about my own musical opinions. After awakening from my classical coma, I started to think about what great music really is.

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Maybe you’ve heard from classically trained musicians, or really anyone who has knowledge of the workings of music theory, certain arguments about how, say, pop music is crap. These people say things like,

“They use the same 4 or 5 chords over and over again!”

“They aren’t real musicians–what you hear on the CD is all a bunch of fancy recording chops that make this or that person sound good.”

“It’s shallow music.”

On the opposite side, some people might say about classical music,

“It’s boring and it all sounds the same.”

“That stuff is ancient! People should be listening to the music of today, not living in the past.”

You get the idea. I’d like to say once again that I was definitely a member of the former, formerly. Now, I don’t want to overindulge in a bunch of unnecessary philosophical rhetoric–I think it’s much more simple than that.

If I were to take a highly educated architect and show a picture of the tree-house my friend and I made in 5th grade, do you think he’d be impressed? How about if I took a gifted painter and showed him the finger painting a little girl from my former church gave me, do you think he’d be able to appreciate it? Maybe, from a sentimental viewpoint, but certainly not from a technical one (I still think my tree-house was awesome, though).

Let me get more specific, and take the opposite viewpoint. If I were to take your average blue collar worker to a Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert, and let him listen to Beethoven’s 9th, do you think he’d be able to fully appreciate it in all of its wondrous intricacies? He’d (more likely than not) certainly enjoy it, but not as much as somebody who has a working knowledge of harmonic function and musical form.

Here’s what it really all boils down to: different strokes for different folks. Yeah, I know…kind of cliche’, but it fits.

Different types of music work for different types of people on different occasions:

-Maybe you’re really intellectual, so you listen to complicated avant-garde stuff or Schoenberg
-You’ve had a hard day at work, and listening to some jazz on your way home helps you to unwind
-Maybe you like to listen to Metallica or Fall Out Boy when you’re working out at the gym
-On Friday, you’re at a dance club with your friends and Timbaland or Beyonce is what you’re dancing to
-OR, maybe you’re able to appreciate and respect all forms of music, and you like to dabble in a bit of everything

Sure, Bruckner is more technically complex than the Beatles, but since when has technical complexity been the hallmark of good music? I’ll never forget this quote from Mr. Kesselman, my first year music theory professor,

“What is great music? Great music says something about what it is to be human.”

I think this is true. Whether you’re listening to a song by Creed that talks about becoming a father, and how you hope your child makes the best of his life, or Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, which beautifully paints a picture in sound of a day in the countryside, both examples speak about life and nature and all the wonderful things that come along with them.

 __________________

So, what am I really trying to say with this post? I don’t know exactly. Everything I’ve written here is a result of introspection and exploring different types of music. Maybe people reading this are more open minded than I previously was, or maybe they aren’t. I guess I’m saying that there really isn’t a place for arrogance in music. Maybe Bob likes Mozart and Linda likes The Rolling Stones–that’s fine! No one really has any place to say that this or that type of music is lesser or greater than their own. Everyone has different tastes and life experiences, which trigger what they enjoy in their music. If anything, let me encourage people reading this to branch out. If you only like classical, try listening to Thelonius Monk. If you’re really into rock, try listening to some of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, like the Pathetique’. I was talking to a friend last night, and I asked her if she thought I would like Radiohead. She recommended a few songs, and I’ll be downloading them from iTunes today.

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~ by benjamin86 on February 11, 2008.

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