It has been said that life would be a mistake without music. I can certainly agree, as I find it difficult to recall any recent days that I completed without listening to at least one song. Humanity’s appreciation and production of music is something that makes us very different from most other living creatures. But nowadays, I wonder if we appreciate music to its fullest extent.
I recently came across a 2015 essay from the British philosopher Roger Scruton, who passed away last January. He made the observation that we often hear music as background noise to the bustling of a busy life instead of intently listening to it and making note of each of the elements that make up a song.
As Scruton said: “For many people, music is no longer a language shaped by our deepest feelings, no longer a place of refuge from the tawdriness and distraction of everyday life, no longer an art in which gripping ideas are followed to their distant conclusions. It is simply a carpet of sound.”
Those words really resonated with me when I read them. So much of today’s music seems to be manufactured rather than created. Contemporary pop songs are made to briefly preoccupy rather than leave a lasting memory. Most of the Billboard Hot 100 singles of every summer appear to fade into obscurity after two years or so. I cannot remember the last time that I heard Meghan Trainor’s 2014 hit, “All About That Bass.” Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2012 single “Call Me Maybe” dominated the radio as the Hot 100’s #1 hit for nine consecutive weeks, but has now largely been relegated to elevator music.
Since profit took precedence over aesthetic value, songs are made with catchy hooks that will get stuck in our heads, and we overplay the tune until the next hit single can take its place. An increasing number of songs do not even use actual instruments. Lyrical content has become unintelligible or attempts to push the envelope of obscenity censors. More and more of today’s teen favorites are made to shock rather than serenade.
Historically speaking, music was created to elevate the mind, heart, and soul. Schubert’s "Ave Maria," Beethoven’s "Moonlight Sonata" and Bach’s "St. Matthew Passion" are compositions that will stand the test of time. But unfortunately, many of the great classical pieces of Western civilization have never graced the ears of our youngest generations.
With music, just as books, the passage of time reveals true artistry. If a work, whether music or writing, is still listened to or read after years have gone by, it is likely for a good reason. That does not mean that everything old is automatically a masterpiece, but things that are considered classics are usually unique, innovative, and had a major impact on our arts of today.
Truthfully, I would not at all consider myself a music aficionado. It was not until I took a music theory class at my school in 10th grade that I realized how little I knew about music and how much depth there is to this area of study. As an intermediate saxophone player and a self-taught drummer, I had a decent knowledge of the practical parts of music. But once I began to learn about the theoretical aspects of music, I found out that there are many scientific, intellectual, and philosophical elements that are not seen on the surface.
One particular lesson really made an impact on me. Our class listened to the "Moonlight Sonata" and our teacher, Mr. Blake, explained how we can hear certain stages of Beethoven’s life reflected in the change in emotion throughout the segments of the song. I was amazed at how much more I got out of the song when I listened to it again afterward.
You do not have to be a classical music scholar to appreciate a good tune. Even though I have a better understanding of classical music, Mozart is still not on my daily playlist. But there have been many popular music artists throughout the decades who displayed immense musical quality. In the hard rock genre, Metallica is well-known for its instrumental skills and country artists such as George Strait use their vocal talents to the fullest potential. I still remember the night that I became a Frank Sinatra fan. My family and I were eating a celebratory dinner at Ruggiero’s Trattoria in Little Falls after I made my Confirmation. A live singer was covering Frank Sinatra’s songs and I was intrigued by the use of horns and strings in Sinatra’s classics.
Scruton’s solution is to emphasize music education for children and “acquaint them with the roots of music in human life.” Elevating the musical taste of our next generations will make our airwaves a more pleasant place.
Victor Gelfuso is a senior at Richfield Springs Central School. Readers can contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Facebook at victorgelfusospeaking.