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Thread: Approach and Accept, or Deny?

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    Senior Member starthrower's Avatar
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    The Spirit Garden 2 disc set of Takemitsu's orchestral works is a good place to start. It's on Brilliant Classics.
    “Music makes you feel feelings. Words make you think thoughts. But a song can make you feel a thought.”

    - Yip Harburg

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    Senior Member Dimace's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    I'm not sure what constitutes "hard-core modern music," but the OP seems to be suggesting that anything without a clear tonal harmonic scheme would fit into that category. I don't approach atonal music in any particular way. Once I know not to listen for tonal relationships and the formal and expressive values tonality is a vehicle for, I listen for other elements a composer uses to give a piece coherence: motivic development, rhythmic interest, repetition, variation, etc. Music which seems mainly devoted to looking for novel sounds doesn't interest me and I abandon it quickly. Learning of the death of Charles Wuorinen, I realized I hadn't heard his work for years, so I sampled a couple of things. His Piano Quintet, an atonal (evidently serial) piece, was interesting and invigorating, while the first five minutes of Time's Encomium (all I could stand of it) were an aimless bore; I thought of a kid who got a synthesizer for Christmas and just wanted to see what noises he could get out of it. But I suppose some people enjoy that sort of thing.
    I have the same issues. Maybe I lost a lot of good music all these years, but, most of the time, I don't feel sorry. Despite my difficulties, I try to listen some of this music and I invest also to it. Mostly a learning procedure.
    „Es gibt drei Arten von Pianisten: jüdische Pianisten, homosexuelle Pianisten -- und schlechte Pianisten.“ V. Horowitz

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Are there studies showing that children who experienced neither nursery school nor secure childhoods grow up preferring, say, Babbitt to Berlioz? Are there cultures in which young children are taught atonal songs, and grow up as exceptions to millionrainbows' generalization, "very few listeners, . . . could derive the same experiential rewards from this music as they get from tonal music, which is 'self evident' to the ear because of its harmonic basis"?

    Isn't it likely that humanity's taste for tonality and tonal harmony derives from factors much more complex and fundamental than the lessons of nursery school and the imagined security of childhood, and that the presence of tonal systems in the music of virtually all cultures worldwide suggests that exploration of such factors might provide a truer explanation of the "self-evident experiential rewards" of tonality?

    It’s not that early experiences are the sole explanation of the ubiquity of tonal music, though no doubt that’s part of it. Rather I’m saying that the distinctive reward of tonal music for the listener is that it lets him find again the reassuring and innocent music of his early years.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Mar-16-2020 at 07:04.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    It’s not that early experiences are the sole explanation of the ubiquity of tonal music, though no doubt that’s part of it. Rather I’m saying that the distinctive reward of tonal music for the listener is that it lets him find again the reassuring and innocent music of his early years.
    Who needs to find it again? Has anyone ever lost it? I see no connection whatever between the satisfactions of tonality and the supposedly reassuring period of life called childhood. What I suspect I am seeing is a condescension toward people who don't like certain kinds of "modern music" and find atonality unpleasant. It suggests that people are immature and timid, that if they'd just grow up they'd be demanding Webern in restaurants (nothing against atonal dining, if that's your thing). It isn't that tonality communicates anything significant about living in the universe, it's that it makes people feel the way they did when Mommy kissed their scraped knee and gave them a cookie and the music box was playing "Rock-a bye Baby."

    I think such an explanation of tonality's appeal is mere speculation at best, and at least as unsatisfactory as millionrainbows' endless campaign to pin it entirely on "the way we hear sound (harmonically)." I think the cognitive and emotional functions of tonality in music are much more complex and interesting.

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  7. #20
    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    I'm musically illiterate but it has seemed to me that the music children learn and become comfortable with in some cultures - I spent quite a long time in Bangladesh (Tagore's songs in particular sound very different to my ears but are widely learned) and also some time in India - is not tonal. Of course, they also encounter a lot of "western" tonal music in the form of pop songs, film music etc.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Are there studies showing that children who experienced neither nursery school nor secure childhoods grow up preferring, say, Babbitt to Berlioz? Are there cultures in which young children are taught atonal songs, and grow up as exceptions to millionrainbows' generalization, "very few listeners, . . . could derive the same experiential rewards from this music as they get from tonal music, which is 'self evident' to the ear because of its harmonic basis"?

    Isn't it likely that humanity's taste for tonality and tonal harmony derives from factors much more complex and fundamental than the lessons of nursery school and the imagined security of childhood, and that the presence of tonal systems in the music of virtually all cultures worldwide suggests that exploration of such factors might provide a truer explanation of the "self-evident experiential rewards" of tonality?
    It's my understanding that many people growing up in non-Western cultures are exposed primarily to non-tonal music when young and prefer that music over tonal music later in life. If that's true, it would seem that exposure to styles of music is more important than any potential innate preference to tonality.

    Does anyone know if early musical style exposure has been studied to the point where a distinction can be made between the effect of possible innate preferences and early exposure?

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    Senior Member Fabulin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mmsbls View Post
    It's my understanding that many people growing up in non-Western cultures are exposed primarily to non-tonal music when young and prefer that music over tonal music later in life. If that's true, it would seem that exposure to styles of music is more important than any potential innate preference to tonality.

    Does anyone know if early musical style exposure has been studied to the point where a distinction can be made between the effect of possible innate preferences and early exposure?
    Read these articles and decide for yourself:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3759965/
    https://www.newscientist.com/article...ormed-in-womb/
    https://www2.uned.es/psicologiaabier...opologia/g.pdf
    https://www.thecrimson.com/article/1...-with-musical/
    http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Abstracts/Tonality_96.html

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    This doesn't clarify anything; it just obfuscates issues which many listeners identify with. If we were all like Messiaen, we would accept all music, and this discussion would be pointless, and it probably is anyway. Sorry to have started it.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Mar-16-2020 at 14:12.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mmsbls View Post
    It's my understanding that many people growing up in non-Western cultures are exposed primarily to non-tonal music when young and prefer that music over tonal music later in life. If that's true, it would seem that exposure to styles of music is more important than any potential innate preference to tonality.
    This post makes no sense at all to me, unless I'm misinterpreting the use of the term "tonality." You mean kids in Ethiopia are listening to serial music? As I said, I'm sorry I started this thread, and especially for using the term "hard-core modern," which many people do not even recognize as meaning anything.

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    ...as unsatisfactory as millionrainbows' endless campaign to pin it entirely on "the way we hear sound (harmonically)." I think the cognitive and emotional functions of tonality in music are much more complex and interesting.
    I didn't mean "exclusively." Of course I agree with you that there are the other reasons you cite.

    As I said, why did I even bother to try to start a discussion? Sorry, folks.

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    I'm categorizing for convenience, but it would be interesting to hear reactions to music by a composer such as, say, Elliott Carter or Charles Wuorinen's music. With such hard-core modern music, how do you approach it, if you do?

    I knew and heard Wourinen beginning in his heyday which was the 1970s. His music made no impression on me. I listened to Carter beginning in the 1990s, both his older tonal stuff (Carter started composing in the 1930s) and his 12 tone music. It too made no impression and I quit working on it.

    Generally speaking I listen to about anything anyone recommends whether modern or difficult or otherwise. If there is something about it I find attractive, interesting or worthwhile I may listen to all of it. If I think I may like it and want to listen for posterity I may search for recordings. If I find a recording I like that I think may satisfy me over time I'll buy it if I can find it for the right price.

    If I don't like something or it makes no impression on me I don't waste time on it. That's because I have known hundreds of pieces of music over the years I liked the first time I heard it that I never liked again. The era of YouTube and streaming makes it much easier to discard now than in the past.

    As my friend once told me after I asked him to listen to Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, "I don't kow why I was listening to that when I could have been listening to something I like,"

    I think there are people that think classical music is something so special that you have an obligation to hear anything. I don't think that way; I think it is more like television. There is a nearly inexhaustible supply of it yet so much of it is bland and unimpressive.
    Last edited by larold; Mar-16-2020 at 15:29.

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    Quote Originally Posted by larold View Post
    [I]

    I think there are people that think classical music is something so special that you have an obligation to hear anything. I don't think that way; I think it is more like television. There is a nearly inexhaustible supply of it yet so much of it is bland and unimpressive.

    Yes, I guess it's from the C19 idea of a visionary genius whose music gives us all a glimpse of a truth he'd perceived. The Beethoven myth.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Mar-16-2020 at 16:43.

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    This post makes no sense at all to me, unless I'm misinterpreting the use of the term "tonality." You mean kids in Ethiopia are listening to serial music? As I said, I'm sorry I started this thread, and especially for using the term "hard-core modern," which many people do not even recognize as meaning anything.
    You are misinterpreting or misusing the word “tonal”. Tonal music and serial music are not antonyms, nor are they mutually exclusive. I can’t speak for Ethiopian music but if you listen to any folk or classical music from India, for example, you will hear music that is not tonal. It is also, of course, not serial.

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  19. #29
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    Thanks. I did look these over, but they seem to be focused on the effect of very early (fetuses or young babies) musical exposure rather than exposure throughout childhood. I wonder if people have studied exposure of those growing up in societies which generally feature non-tonal music (e.g. India) trying to determine if they preferentially enjoy their society's non-tonal music or Western tonal music. I imagine this is a hard study to do given the potential for people to easily hear music from other parts of the world.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mmsbls View Post
    It's my understanding that many people growing up in non-Western cultures are exposed primarily to non-tonal music when young and prefer that music over tonal music later in life. If that's true, it would seem that exposure to styles of music is more important than any potential innate preference to tonality.

    Does anyone know if early musical style exposure has been studied to the point where a distinction can be made between the effect of possible innate preferences and early exposure?
    I'm not aware that atonal music is indigenous to any culture. I think you may be defining "tonal" to refer only to the complex Western "common practice" harmonic system. Hierarchical organization of the notes of a scale around a tone functioning as a point of gravitation or resolution is ubiquitous in world music.

    There IS the nature/nurture problem to consider, but the extent to which nurture can cancel out mankind's clearly spontaneous tendency to organize music tonally remains to be seen. Experiments would have to be conducted in which children are exposed only to atonal music for a significant period - possibly several years - at the beginning of life, and then later introduced to various forms of tonal music. It's hard for me to imagine this ever being done. But we do have evidence (see the articles in Fabulin's post) of infants' preference for consonant harmony, suggesting that an appreciation for dissonance is largely acquired rather than innate. For me that raises the question of why and how dissonance becomes enjoyable and why it appears more widely accepted and enjoyed in tonal music than in atonal.

    In Western harmonic music in the common practice tradition, dissonance is used contextually and hierarchically, analogous to the way in which percepts and concepts are formed, related, and ordered in normal cognition (the same principle is operative in modal and non-Western music, but in ways less familiar to most of us). I'll posit that it's this cognitive basis of tonal organization that explains, to a great extent, how people who accept and enjoy high levels of dissonance and irresolution in a tonal context may nonetheless find atonal music, which eschews that basis for order and must find a less cognitively thorough substitute for it (such as serial organization), relatively unattractive or unrewarding. Tonality is about the mind and the "ear" (perception of harmony's degrees of consonance) simultaneously, directly embodying a fundamental operating principle of the former in the sensuous form of the latter. I believe that a thorough examination of music - not only of tonality - as an analogue of cognitive processes goes far in explaining music's extraordinary power to express a wide range of human emotion. (A good introduction to the subject remains Leonard B. Meyer's old classic, Emotion and Meaning in Music.)
    Last edited by Woodduck; Mar-16-2020 at 18:13.

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