17. THE FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEMS OF MUSIC PEDAGOGY. Did Music Encourage Technological Progress?
I have been developing a certain hypothesis for many years. It is very logical, though it can’t be proved by concrete evidence. It is as follows: the development of musical thought stimulated the general innovative progress of humanity. The technological revolution of the 20th century didn’t follow the mighty splash of musical creativity of the 18th and 19th centuries by mere coincidence. Musical literacy developed the general musical thought processes, and musical thought, in turn, defined a new level of scientific and engineering consciousness. The language of music is an abstraction of the highest class! The ability to memorize complicated musical works was also reflected in the technical sphere. The languages of communication, both scientific and musical, developed symbiotically just like two knives sharpening each other, releasing sparks of potential. Each influenced the other, creating a harmonious balance of logic and feeling, time and space, the concrete and the figurative.
What came first: music or creative thinking? Which flows from the other? It is hard to say. But initially there was a huge flourish of musical art (Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modernism) and only after that came the Industrial Revolution. And now we are warned: technological progress continues to prosper to this day, while musical art is in a deep depression. If music was the foundation of creative work, the next stage is entirely logical: the human thought process, no longer strengthened by musical progress, will be extinguished. And the person that is deprived of creative thought will be doomed to decay.
Humans have been around for hundreds of thousands of years, but didn’t achieve a developed and rich musical language all at once. The first works appeared long before music literacy. They passed from one rule to another, and were very simple and not too thought-out. History hasn’t accurately preserved a single melodic saga or score that accompanied the Greek Tragedies. From the epoch before musical literacy, only folklore has been preserved – short compositions, limited in volume and plain in substance. Think, for example, of the holiday song “Carol of the Bells.” It is likely that this melody is several thousand years old, derived from an ancient Ukrainian folk chant, “Shchedryk.” The four-note melody was made simple for the sake of repetition, and has thus survived in the villages of Ukraine for ages.
Because it couldn’t be written down, it wasn’t possible to preserve more complex pieces with accuracy; they changed and slipped away, like sand through the fingers. People constantly tried to find ways to record musical notation. They came up with all sorts of lines and symbols. Ancient Greeks used letters to write out the sounds of music, Russian monks used names and hooks, and European Monks used neumes, which are individual signs that are representative of different sounds. Yet all of these symbols only gave a general idea of the melody. They couldn’t communicate the exact notes, the clear correlation of the melody, nor the concrete tune or rhythms to be sung.
Finally, in the 10th century, a Benedictine monk named Guido d’Arezzo invented a music stave of four lines, placed the neumes onto it, and marked off note duration. This was a true revolution! If not for this genius invention, symphonies, sonatas, operas, and ballets wouldn’t have been a possibility. In just this way, our consciousness is built on the appearance of a written language from which thought can develop. Language is the capture of human thought. After a person writes down an idea, he can examine it, rethink it, complete it, develop it, and, most importantly, pass it on to others.
Literacy is the focal point for the development of any idea. When we pass it along vocally, a centrifugal force prevails; one wants to preserve the source, the original idea. Writing develops the centripetal force, helping to better the original and to attain new results.
Having learned to write down music, people began to study and develop the language further. The first schools were established in monasteries and churches. There, the best tunes were examined, worked out, and painstakingly recorded. Music compositions became more complex and improved. Descendants read the music of their fathers and added something of their own to it. In this way, from the Gregorian chants of monks, European music came to Bach’s fugues, cantatas, and masses, and then the sonatas and symphonies of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.
Advanced musical thought has nothing to do with simple repetitive melodies, and is extraordinarily dynamic in its own development and imagination. Working with an advanced musical language demands a huge amount of intellect. One needs a developed memory, creative mind, concentration, the ability to focus one’s attention, a balance of the emotional and abstract perceptions, developed logic, and a sense of balance between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Because of this, the idea that the music revolution heralded the technological revolution doesn’t at all seem unlikely to me.
Society’s relationship to music can be used as a barometer of its intellectual development. The ability to listen, understand, and appreciate symphonic or opera music is an indication that the intellectual development of people has reached the highest level, and immaculate balance. This occurred during the “Silver Age,” of culture, during the second half of the 19th century. At that time, almost every country in Europe produced genius composers. From that point on, their music has been the very embodiment of perfection, and even now, nobody has created a new form of classical music. And of course, this is hardly possible: currently, musical culture is wilting before our eyes.
After the Second World War, the popularity of serious musical genres began its descent. Classical swiftly started getting substituted by operettas, musicals, and dance music. Nowadays, it has completely lost its former popularity. Contemporary classical composers are rare, and the wide listening base isn’t familiar with Schnittke and Shinberg. Nowadays, pop and rock music is what’s on everyone’s mind. Symphony and opera are the lot of the elite few, whose circle continues to shrink. The music of the masses has again returned to the pre-literate age. The musically illiterate majority can only listen to primitive, simple melodies and obsessively repetitive songs. As for the lyrics that are accompanied by such soundtracks – it’d be better not to talk about them at all.
I can propose a test of the perception of serious music, indicative of the intellectual remainder of contemporary society. Even the songs of The Beatles were more advanced and refined than popular contemporary rock and pop. During those same years, from the start of the 70’s until midway through the 80’s, some musicians tried to lift rock to the level of opera (Jesus Christ Superstar) and symphony (Pink Floyd, King Crimson).
Audio recordings have become more accessible than ever, now that digital players have been invented. Each person can reproduce any sound while driving a car or riding a bicycle. The demand for musical literacy has almost completely disappeared. Popular music is increasingly simplified, and its rhythmic 2-3 note songs are in essence proof of a return to the pre-literate era. The more progressive and complex genres of music, such as sonatas and symphonies, have for almost a century been written by the thin circle of aesthetes, and make no sense to most people.
Many are convinced that contemporary pop music is at a higher level than music of the past. It seems that they’re making a judgment based on the quality of the recording, abilities of the electronic instruments, and sound effects. But we’re talking about music here – not its technical and acoustic entourage. Take away the electronic wrapper from the majority of popular songs, and see what’s inside. Absolutely primitive, uninteresting material. Don’t believe me? Try to play these songs on the piano. Especially rap songs.
With the rare exception, popular music is like Sunday comics, where the text is simply a supplement to the drawings. It doesn’t help the development of musical hearing, nor the enrichment of the spirituality, nor the growth of creativity and intellect. Our kids are growing up on comics.