Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Music really does force us to ponder our own moral compasses

A little skirmish broke out on Twitter and some websites recently, actually building up for a long time, about an artistic issue in classical music, something I’ve covered before on my “Drama and Music” blog (most recently on September 1, 2015): that is, the validity of “chills and fever” loud and triumphant endings to many large romantic works in 19th century and some early to mid 20th century (usually orchestral, including with piano) literature.  It’s important because it reflects a deeper value about what emotions and feelings are really valid in some larger moral context.  

More specifically, there has been a lot of controversy over how composer Anton Bruckner really had intended to end his Ninth Symphony (since he died before completing it).  While many scholars claim his intentions can be surmised almost 100% from the manuscripts he left behind (some were not found until the middle of the last century), there are still three or four very credible competing ideas as to how the last 30 or so measures should go, and one scholar claims it should end quietly. (A couple of the other scholars are now in my social media circles.)  And NYC-based young composer Timo Andres (still under 30, and one of a well-regarded group of composers in New York under 40) has said before that most of his works end quietly out of consideration for the listener, to allow the hearer to contemplate what she has heard in her own space.  To that group, by the way, add Jarod Lanier (older, 55), who has written extensively about technology and moral concerns (July 1, 2014 here and July 1, 2013 here, and Book reviews, Feb . 22, 2010, "You Are Not a Gadget") and John Adams (68) who has at least one opera about the nuclear arms race.  
It's also noteworthy that "politicians" have tried to manipulate the emotional appeal of ("triumphant") classical music.  The Nazis did it (with Beethoven and Wagner), but then Beethoven was called in to celebrate the Christmas Day after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.  The Soviet Union tried to maniplate the compositional of Dmiti Shostakovich;  Communist China (and now North Korea) has manipulated music in a way that seems naive. Other kinds of music, often more repetitive, appeal to people (wired differently than me) in all kinds of religious contexts. 
By ninth grade, through “ear training” that had come with my piano lessons, and by wearing out old monaural records on an old RCA record player “in the basement”, I had become accustomed to the romantic formula, especially of a big work in a minor key:  move to major (the “Picardy Third”) at the end with a “Big Tune” in triumph.  Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto was probably the first such work to thrill me, soon followed by Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto, as well as Grieg’s.  I felt a real adrenaline rush at such an conclusion.  I would play just the conclusion over and over (which is why some of the records “wore out”).  That was a source of real “pleasure”.  

What the “mental health” world of the early 1960s didn’t like, was that I got “pleasure” only when stimulated passively by something or someone I admired or became “upwardly affiliated” with. That fit the theory as to how I perceived sexuality by the time I was a freshman in college (the fall semester of 1961, when I wound up getting expelled from William and Mary).
Since I worked as an “individual contributor” in information technology for decades, and lived in a world where dedication to detail and accuracy was so important to professional survival, I could stay in my own world, unaware of how far I had drifted from the socialization that others expect.  My life became “what it was” with no need for apology.  I was a productive citizen, who took care of himself but not of anybody else (because “he” didn’t “procreate”).  Retirement would provide a rude shock. I had to deal with my aging mother, with dementia.  As a sub, I had to deal with kids – and their personal issues, in a wat that shocked me.  I found that people expected me to fit into a social structure where “power” was based on assertiveness and hierarchy, not on the moral validity of the ideas underneath what was happening.  I would be expected to play parent when I had never done anything myself that could have led to procreation. Moreover, I was expected to find emotional meaning in doing so.  

Some of this gets into the “polarity theory” of Paul Rosenfels, as articulated back in the 1970s at the Ninth Street Center in New York (and since carried on by his surviving community).  But since I was regarded as “feminine” (but “unbalanced”, as “subjective feminine”) I was supposed to learn to develop the ability to “feel” in the context of meeting the real needs of other people (to become more “balanced”).   Instead, to the consternation of some in that community, I tended to hang around and “cherry pick” (upward affiliation again).  So I wasn’t “growing” in the “creative” capacity to feel for others when in actual need.  

In more recent years, the spontaneity of social media has actually highlighted the expectations that people learn to bond in ways previouslyalien to them – countering the whole “Alone Together” mentality (Sept. 18, 2013 here, and Books, Nov. 2, 2011).  It also counters the "take care of thy own first" mentality common with the "conservative" (and sometimes "survivalist" and gun-toting) crowd. There’s new expectation, in our evolving moral landscape,  that people embrace the idea of personal involvement with those who cannot take care of themselves, as the personal reflection of the inequality debate – see Books Saturday Sept. 5, 2015, and TV Blog today (the writings of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn).  To walk away from this is beginning to look cowardly, in a way that it never has before.  

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