Music Philosophy

As I was speaking with a fellow musician today (he is the teacher in whose classroom I am student teaching), we got onto the subject of jazz. I mentioned that I can’t stand to listen to a jazz station for long periods. This got us into a good conversation about modern music and what gives good music its “edge.” I have a few philosophical points to share on this:

  1. All music comes from somewhere. It may be an outgrowth of the culture from which it springs. It may be a facsimile of what the musicians have heard before. Music has origins, from a child playing chopsticks to the newest punk rock band. If you analyzed every musical influence which has brushed past my ears, you could probably identify where every good musical idea I’ve had was used by somebody before me. Real musicians steal. No, I take that back. Real musicians take existing elements and organize them into a recognizable, effective form. Isn’t that what God did when creating the world?
  2. The best music is organic. I don’t mean that it’s free from pesticides and genetic modification. I mean that the best music has a refined human element. Various software tries to emulate human musical performance, and some do a good job. But the best music is felt not only by the audience, but by the performer in the very act. It contains human characteristics (like trademark imperfections) that make it real. The best music is never played the same twice, because the right interpretation for the moment is determined by the venue and the audience and what the musicians had for dinner. Little things that seem inconsequential change the performance immensely for musicians who are willing to follow the natural unfolding of music.
  3. Good musicians are becoming fewer in the world. Why? Attention span, for one. How many children have the drive to practice an instrument daily? How many adults? I see a critical difference between this generation and the generation of our parents: mediocre music no longer requires musicians. Before the technology of the 90s and beyond put a studio within the grasp of any bozo with a synthesizer, making music required live musicians. There were, of course, recordings, but they were made with live musicians as well. Now, musicianship has become novel. It is one thing to play Guitar Hero and quite another to be a musician. But disturbingly, many of us under 30 devote significantly more time to video games than to any real skill-building activity.

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Nathan Howe is a Colorado composer, performer, and teacher. If you enjoy the free music available on this website, please share it with friends, commission a composition, or make a donation. Thank you!

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