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Thread: What Role Does "Skill" Play When Evaluating Music?

  1. #16
    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eva Yojimbo View Post
    OK, here's two related subjects to this I think are also worth discussing:

    1. If the music doesn't sound good to most people, then why should we consider whatever went into composing it skillful?

    2. If we're, at least partially, defining "skill" as doing something that is difficult to do, an ability that few people possess, then why should those artists/songwriters that dominate the Billboard top 40 also not be considered skillful? Surely it's also a skill to be able to consistently appeal to casual listeners given that there are thousands attempting to do so but only a handful succeeding.
    Addressing both the same time, skill in composing to me, is achieving something worthwhile in music, whether something creative in expressive, or more technical terms. Pachelbel wrote a great Canon that is technically great and expressive. Webern also wrote a canon (his Symphony), using atonal language that had zero chance of being a popular hit, but still something great technically and expressive in a less obvious sense. That is something what I referred to as the initiated, consider worthwhile in music.

    Taylor Swift has skill in sensing what the audience wants and delivers, but her skill in creating something worthwhile in music in expressive, technical terms is not anything special to the initiated.

    By confining skill to the music itself, and bringing up the idea of the initiated, I think there is less argument, so that not anything any Joe (or Jane) writes could be considered equal or greater than Beethoven, just because it's a top 40 hit (remembering Right Said Fred).
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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    What do you make of random music? Things like Music of Changes?

    And graphic scores, things like Treatise?

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    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    Aside from the question of what we (each) mean by skill, it is clear that there are many different skills involved in composing music and very few (or no) composers excelled in all of them.

    But, to think of skill in general, I assume we can all agree that skills alone, no matter how necessary they may be, are not sufficient in themselves to result in great music? We may like to think that our favourite creative artists had great skill but this may be because we lack the confidence to assign value to a piece without being able to "see" the skill?

    What is left when skill is removed from the equation are things like vision. But don't you need skills to realise the vision? Obviously you do, so we are left with comparing pieces where (a) the skill requirement (to realise the vision) is greater with those where (b) the required skill (to realise the vision) is far less. Do we think that visions that require a lot of rare skills to realise are intrinsically greater than works that require a little skill? I don't think this can be the case, can it?

    Consider art, painting. How much skill did Van Gogh have? There are at least two ways to answer that. One is to go to his earlier works where his painting was more literal and examine how technically good he was. The other is to look at his mature work and ask what skills were needed to achieve it. That could lead you to discovering (or inventing?) new skills that had not been so valued before him.

    Or what about Mark Rothko? His early work exhibited a measure of what we conventionally (and figuratively) regard as skill, like this from 1940:

    mmm.jpg

    But his later (and, surely, greater) work seems incredibly simple, like this from 1958 (I think):

    black-on-maroon.jpg

    What skill was involved in making the later painting?

    So, to me, vision is necessary and the skill to realise that vision is necessary. But skill alone is not terribly important in assigning value to a piece of music.
    Last edited by Enthusiast; Sep-24-2019 at 12:58.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post

    realise the vision
    vision is necessary and the skill to realise that vision is necessary.

    Vision can just mean "aim", "objective".

    One of the most important, influential, pieces of music of the last 150 years has been Satie's vexations. Maybe the most important and influential.

    Vexations_erik_satie_piano_sheet.jpeg
    Last edited by Mandryka; Sep-24-2019 at 10:53.

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    Glenn Gould proved in the 1950s that skill matters; he revealed to us The Goldberg Variations. The whole long tradition of piano and violin virtuosi proves that skill (virtuosity) has always been a lynchpin of Western music, especially since the advent of recording technology.
    It could also be argued that before the age of recoding, when composers auditioned for royals, that skill mattered; and if Mozart hasn't gotten that appointment, his music might not have flourished.
    Remember, before recording, all music was "live" and depended on performance.

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    Vision can mean aim or objective, true. It is even possible to break it down into a hierarchy - vision might be the big picture and aims might be the slightly smaller things that you need to achieve to realise the vision. But let's keep it simple.
    Last edited by Enthusiast; Sep-24-2019 at 13:02.

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Glenn Gould proved in the 1950s that skill matters; he revealed to us The Goldberg Variations. The whole long tradition of piano and violin virtuosi proves that skill (virtuosity) has always been a lynchpin of Western music, especially since the advent of recording technology.
    It could also be argued that before the age of recoding, when composers auditioned for royals, that skill mattered; and if Mozart hasn't gotten that appointment, his music might not have flourished.
    Remember, before recording, all music was "live" and depended on performance.
    You are talking of performing skill rather than creative (composing) skill?

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Glenn Gould proved in the 1950s that skill matters; he revealed to us The Goldberg Variations. The whole long tradition of piano and violin virtuosi proves that skill (virtuosity) has always been a lynchpin of Western music, especially since the advent of recording technology.
    It could also be argued that before the age of recoding, when composers auditioned for royals, that skill mattered; and if Mozart hasn't gotten that appointment, his music might not have flourished.
    Remember, before recording, all music was "live" and depended on performance.
    The thing about virtuosity is that it makes music undemocratic, because basically you have to acquire it and that costs money, it's an education which isn't open to the working classes.

    So if your vision involves a radical social change towards greater fairness, and you want your music to be in line with that vision, it follows that you must find a music which involves no virtuosity. A music which people who have no musical education can become involved in, a music which they can use to realise their talents.

    That's why Stockhausen and Cage served imperialism. And why Cornelius Cardew and Howard Skempton didn't.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Sep-24-2019 at 13:16.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    The thing about virtuosity is that it makes music undemocratic, because basically you have to acquire it and that costs money, it's an education which isn't open to the working classes. .........
    A working class background didn't stop me from achieving a high level of attainment in music which makes me suspicious of your post. What about excellence (virtuosity) in every other conceivable field of endeavour and knowledge, are those achievements a manifestation of undemocratic opportunity too?
    Last edited by mikeh375; Sep-24-2019 at 13:23.

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    If you're saying what I think you're saying, which is equating skill with an elite class, I don't think John Cage is the best example. Also, it could be argued that extreme notational complexity (as in Stockhausen, and Cage's Freeman Etudes) is an attempt to "defeat," challenge, or overcome the skill of the performer.

    On the other hand, it could be argued that the entirety of Western Classical music is a genre which requires and favors the educated elite, as opposed to folk and popular music, genres in which every 12-year-old trailer-trash kid is eligible to be the next Eric Clapton, if he/she can afford a $100 electric guitar.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikeh375 View Post
    A working class background didn't stop me from achieving a high level of attainment in music which makes me suspicious of your post. What about excellence (virtuosity) in every other conceivable field of endeavour and knowledge, are those achievements a manifestation of undemocratic opportunity too?
    But you didn't have a Bosendorfer Imperial Grand in your mobile home. Just think what you could have accomplished if you had.

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    Skill is important but I've heard lots of forgettable music that was skillfully written. It lacked a spark or melody or counterpoint or something that made it memorable. So skill is probably a starting point to greatness but certainly not an ending point.

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    But you didn't have a Bosendorfer Imperial Grand in your mobile home. Just think what you could have accomplished if you had.
    Ah,but it took great nerve to steal that piano and then to find it didn't fit..... I managed to flog it down the boozer for £50..paid for a few beers and a curry.......the consumption of which incidentally is a great way to train for the music industry and cheaper than all that academic stuff.
    Last edited by mikeh375; Sep-24-2019 at 13:42.

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    Skill is important but I've heard lots of forgettable music that was skillfully written. It lacked a spark or melody or counterpoint or something that made it memorable. So skill is probably a starting point to greatness but certainly not an ending point.

    To me it's similar to intelligence in a person. Just because a person has it doesn't make them memorable. They have to apply it in some way to accomplish that.

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  25. #30
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    The only 'skill' I use in evaluating music is how much I enjoy it and how much it moves me. I leave the rest of the skill to the performers who tend to be a lot better at it than me!

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