The Sound of Music

The sound of music today is… not so musical.

The manufactured sounds of contemporary rock, hip-hop, country and etc., are stale, boring, and often completely UNmusical. So-called “artists” who can neither find nor maintain pitch (admittedly those who pass as “country music singers” nowadays usually have a BIG edge over most in other genres in at least finding pitches) seem to dominate the manufactured music market.

Of course they do. Most people nowadays can’t hear thunder. Data point: anyone reading this who can discern pitches need only think back to the first few weeks of any season of American Idol. Think of all the completely clueless, tone-deaf aspirants who auditioned. They are among the best of the population in general.

Yes, most people in our society today are tone deaf. And I lay the “blame”–such as it is–at the feet of lazy generations of folks who have let the radio (and the technologies that followed it) make their music for them, instead of making their own music. You see, true tone deafness is extremely rare, but most folks nowadays have never bothered to learn to sing, play an instrument or even whistle a tune. Oh, as American Idol evidences, many folks think they can sing, but obviously cannot.

Heck, I spent more than a few years teaching music (both vocal and instrumental) in various settings and venues. Even kids who self-select to be in band or orchestra far, far more often than not came to the classes–in fifth or sixth grade… and even more sadly after several years of “instruction” by others–with only the vaguest idea of pitch differentiation. And I have heard “award-winning” high school bands that have never been introduced to that old Chinese gentleman, Tun-ing.

Go to a church, once one of the cultural bastions of vocal/choral music, and simply listen (if you’re one of the minority of those who can differentiate pitches). Horrible. Listless voices. Tuneless congregational singing. A far cry from the days of my youth (and even then it was not rare to find pockets of poor singing. The slide into musical illiteracy has been long).

My dad belongs to a church that has such congregational singing. It tries to make up for it by having a “praise band” and singers up front to “lead” the singing. Interesting thing: most of the instrumentalists in the band are in their 60s, 70s and even, like my dad, 80s. They come from generations when making their own music was still a common thing. (In his youth, for example, my dad and a bunch of his buddies bought a HUGE repertoire of charts of the swing music that was then popular and drove all over their home state playing gigs. As a real band, not some five-piece small ensemble that passes for bands nowadays.)

The musical illiteracy and lack of tone perception that is rampant nowadays is appalling.

For those few who can sing along without having some mindless drone from an electronic crutch, let me offer these chilling (yes, chilling) words from The Sound of Music:

When you know the notes to sing
You can sing most any thing.

Now, that’s a depressing thought in the face of American lack of musicality.

(Lest you think me some sort of pseudo-intellectual musical snob, academic/”serious” music nowadays is often worse thasn any of the pop genres. Heck, there’s more–much more–to appreciate in the musical wasteland of manufactured country, hip-hop, etc., than in the land of contemporary “serious” music. *sigh*)

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16 Replies to “The Sound of Music”

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  2. And ALL God’s people said…. AMEN. In the key of “C.” With accurate pitch and feeling.

    As a child, I “suffered” through four years of piano, six years of instrumental music (no, I won’t shame myself by admitting which one, though yes, I can still make it work), two years of guitar and ten – read em and weep – ten years of vocal training. I can sing, I can play, and yes, I suffer horribly enough at the hands of so-called music that most of it isn’t allowed in the house (though I do listen to country from time to time – you caught me).

    When Yak the Younger started kindergarten at a private-school-which-shall-remain-unnamed, one of the reasons I acquiesced to certain educational ideals I didn’t agree with was the presence in the curriculum of three little-known subjects: foreign language, elocution, and singing. Although YtY didn’t really learn much French – though he did, in fact, know enough to communicate on a superficial level when we went to France a year later, to my impressed amusement – he learned to stand on a stage, alone as well as with a group, and recite. He learned to sing the same way. The elocution teacher required diction, posture and (for the group recitation) what she called “listenability” – which was a kindergarten-age word for “when an audience hears you recite, they have to be able to UNDERSTAND what the group is saying. MUCH harder than you might think, even for adults, and the performances these kids gave weekly beat most adult performances I’ve seen. Ditto for chorus, except that they also had to sing the notes correctly – at the same time – without sacrificing diction.

    I ultimately grew to abhor the school and much of what it taught, but I will never consider the decision a mistake or the money wasted because my son can stand up in public and sing or speak in a manner people can understand, and he knows how to tell one pitch from another. Would all alledgeducational systems did at least that much.

    Probably too much to ask.

  3. Please, RY, the key of Bb, at least, for us Olde Phartes whose voices have… lowered (or at least lost some range) with age. *sigh*

    Glad you learned and that YtY had early enrichment.

    Recalls to mind a concert more than 10 years ago (closer to 15, now) at the American Choral Directors Association national meeting by The (yes, THE) Hungarian Children’s Choir (note: “children” meant kids in their teens). In their system at the time, ALL children had music instruction from first entry into school, such that, absent any purely physical handicaps, ALL could

    play an instrument
    sing on pitch (and sightread)
    compose a simple melody and accompanimant

    by the time they had reached what for us would be third grade. After that, with tracking, children split up into different educational/training schooling. The kids who sang in the choir I heard were from THE school for music. Seven hours a day music, the rest devoted to other academic subjects–language, maths, science, history, etc.

    Beautiful pitches, tones, harmonies, rhythms–everything sung just as I’d always attempted to have my choirs sing, within the limits of ability I had to work with. And every single thing they sang was a cappella. Pitches sag? Notachance.

    We ended the night with the choir leading us in singing the dona nobis pacem (yes, THE, not some of the johnnie-come-lately versions *heh*) as it was meant to be sung. Five part fugue “style” (yeh, yeh, call it a round if you want :-).

    Several years later, I had a fifth grade recorder choir earn a “Superior” rating as a last-minute entry (Well, I knew the instrumental music chair at the university where the festival was being held, so a phone call got the recorder choir added to my band’s entry juuuust in time) at festival playing the same tune… after three weeks’ instruction (I only got the kids at all by pointing out to their music “teacher” that letting me teach them to play recorder would give him some free time during the week. *heh* FIrst time any of ’em had been exposed to playing instruments or printed music–seriously. *sigh* But who was I to B&M, anyway? I was just the band teacher, nothing musical about what I was teaching… )

    (Yeh, yeh, what was a guy who taught band doing at an ACDA convention anyway? Band was always a minor gig for me.)

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