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A Blog About Culture

Recognition, Situation, Identity, Reality

Somewhere between getting convinced to go to a line-dancing country bar in Alexandria and being reprimanded for my ineffective screening of over-interested guys, I got to talking to my friend Lizzy about my direction in my M.A. program. I don’t really fully explain what I’m doing to most people, because I tend to nerd out and say way more than they bargained for, but Lizzy was asking questions and (gasp!) was actually involved and interested in the conversation. We began talking about preserving vs. sustaining communities through art forms, and the ways in which those media retain or lose relevancy in changing societies.

Lizzy is a classical violist, so our conversation was guided toward symphonic orchestras as an example of a culturally expressive medium that is losing relevancy today. She cited a few reasons for this shift, based mostly on generational and class differences:

Young people aren’t interested. They’re not familiar with the “rules” and etiquette of going, tickets are too expensive, they’re not interested in the music — and that’s just surface level.

We all know that the overarching class structures prevalent in the heyday of classical music are no longer with us. We have classes, of course, but now is (arguably) less bourgeois/prole and more diversified. Symphony orchestras no longer represent the values of (“high art,” education, frivolity) and within (the visibly divided culture: ticket prices, etiquette) the same societies.

All of this is not to say that the orchestras are completely out of date and no longer valuable. They just do not reflect the same values as earlier, so they cannot serve the same purposes in cultures, and in building communities. They can be adapted to do so, or new expressions can (and do) emerge.

  • This Darwinian mode of thinking is nothing new. How do classical, historical, and folk art forms take on new roles in this line of thought?
  • How much of “value” is implicit and unsaid in cultures?
  • What are the dangers of introducing analytically reflexive notions to communities?
  • What about “art for art’s sake?” What can be said for the soul of the symphony itself?

In response, my friend and classmate Michele– also a musician — had written a comment that apparently got caught somewhere in the WordPress web. She introduced an article by Alex Ross originally published in the New Yorker (2004) and most recently republished in 2010 book Listen to This. The article’s about the flexibility and perpetually dying nature of classical music defending its relevancy today. Ross discusses the artistic value of this genre of music, and I think that Michele has added a good response to my question about the soul of the symphony. Ross’s article briefly discusses the changing social function of music as representation of class structure.

My above post, though, wonders — what, functionally, is music beyond music? And, don’t write me off just because I’m not a musician. I have an appreciation for music and the other arts. I wonder these questions about literally everything in the world. Artistry removed (if such a thing is possible), what value did it add or represent in the past? in today’s state? Beyond expression of the human experience – what is it? This is what I wonder.


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