I have been playing music for a long time. I find music and the spiritual quest are intimately related. In my next couple of blogs I would like to explore this relationship and invite you to send in your thoughts and feelings about this topic.
Recently, I was talking with an old college buddy about music. We played as a duo together. He played viola and piano and I played guitar and sang. We did a lot of coffeehouses, some private parties and weddings and even some local eating places. We even wrote a bunch of songs that we performed and eventually recorded one or two of them.
We got to talking last night about where the music business has been and where it is now. We both opened up some interesting ideas. He started talking about how music was recorded in the sixties and seventies. We talked about the Wrecking Crew and the Nashville studio scene and Motown etc. We even went as far back as the Big Band era. I know everyone has an opinion about this but I would like to share some of the thoughts I have had that came out of this conversation.
Music is an art and a business but we should never confuse the two. The art of music is and should always be accessible to everyone. If it were up to me, everyone would learn to play a musical instrument (singing does not count even though we should all learn that as well). Music is not just for those who exhibit a talent for it. I have never met someone who didn’t enjoy music in some way and it is a very large part of most people’s lives. It is tied to our very identity. In some ways, it almost seems ridiculous that we have to pay for the pleasure of listening to music. Remember that I am speaking of the art of music here. We all seem to develop tastes for different types of music and make judgments on what we like and dislike. This seems fairly normal but I wonder if we would make the same judgments if we weren’t paying for music. Would it bother people that some people do not seem to have the same kind of talent that others possess? Would some dislike Miley Cyrus for just enjoying singing if she weren’t making all that money? Would we get upset over people with no real talent for music who were simply expressing their inner reality? Would these people without talent for music have any effect on society at all? Does it bother us to hear a child singing out of tune or is it just cute?
Art is who we are. It is a reflection of our deepest reality expressed in many forms. It is always complicated to commercialize it. The business of music is just that – a business. A business in the American capitalist system is motivated by profit. Good or bad - that’s just the way it is (as Bruce Hornsby once sang). So we are put into a quandary. What is good music? Does all music that sells have merit? Do we even know enough about the art form to know what makes music good or is it whatever hits us is good music? I know that certain music just hits me. I love Fleetwood Mac but I am certain that Stevie Nicks would have had some problems making it through the music program that I went through in college. I wouldn’t say that Stevie Nicks had a great voice but there was something about the way she sings that speaks to me. Subjective opinion to be sure, but that’s how I see it. You don’t have to be great to make it, but you have to have something.
This leads me back to my conversation with my friend. While there is a great deal of music that still has value today, I believe we are hearing large amounts of music that has no value whatsoever. That is not a criticism of the people but of the system that has brought us here. The music business has undergone major changes, but that is another conversation. I invite you to comment and share your ideas. What do you think?
Life in the spirit
John is a professional musician and a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church. His blog will center around the arts in spirituality and how spirituality applies to everyday life.
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