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Thread: Seriously, what do we mean when we say "elitism" or "elitist" about classical music?

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    Senior Member SanAntone's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Forster View Post
    I don't give a hoot either. Please don't think I do. I'm not the one insisting on it in this thread.
    To be clear, I care regarding organizing a collection but not rating one genre as inherently of better quality than another. So, in organizing my collection I would shelve film soundtracks in a different area than Classical CDs, just a I would have the Jazz some place else, etc.

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    Senior Member eljr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SanAntone View Post
    To be clear, I care regarding organizing a collection but not rating one genre as inherently of better quality than another. So, in organizing my collection I would shelve film soundtracks in a different area than Classical CDs, just a I would have the Jazz some place else, etc.
    You already made this clear.
    There was no cowardice in the decision. I am not fearful, I am resolved, pragmatic and disciplined.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Luchesi View Post
    Yes, but there’s one more point not showing up in here so far, and it might be divisive…

    I suspect that without the elitism I wouldn’t have stuck it out with learning classical piano, from my first slight fascinations with popular music. I was at an age wherein it motivated me to be a more disciplined sponge to absorb it all. My teacher was austere and very snobbish, it seemed to me as a young observer. It was all for the best eventually (not at the time).
    Yes this is a tricky point, which is why I've avoided it -- for 2-1/2 months! First, we need a developmental perspective. It's pretty common for young classical piano students (teens or up to a few years younger) to be interested in playing pop music. But if they suspend their classical piano training, in my experience they may regret it later. Perhaps your seemingly austere, snobbish teacher also conveyed a sense of wisdom about the longer-term value of classical piano both for the student and the culture. Perhaps other individuals in your life did too. It's important to try for a just result for the student, parents, and teacher -- whether it's a balance, a focus on one or the other, or something else all together. And not forget that classical piano also can be a support for other activities. For you I'm glad it was all for the best -- the key word I think is "eventually."

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    Senior Member Luchesi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fluteman View Post
    Obviously, music composed as incidental theatrical music is not the same as a symphony or a string quartet. Perhaps it is closer to opera overtures or intermezzi, or to ballet music. Of course, incidental music has a long tradition, Mendelssohn's incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream probably being the most famous example. That is consistently ranked as one of the most popular pieces of classical music of all time here at TC, and probably with good reason, considering the frequency with which it is performed. Copland's Quiet City and Bernstein's On the Waterfront suites are in the same tradition, as are Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky cantata and Lieutenant Kije suite and a number of works by Shostakovich.

    These works are adapted from music originally composed to accompany a theatrical work, rather than to stand on its own. If you listen to them in their original form without the work they were intended to accompany, they sometimes lack the structure and coherence needed to effectively stand on their own, though sometimes this isn't an issue. However, the works I cite above all were modified by their composers for concert performance.

    These works all easily satisfy your definition of 'classical music', which is as good as any.
    How did they advance the art of music? and how did they develop from the earlier champions of the art of music? This is what I look for. This is what all the great composers did. Maybe you don't agree with that, maybe it's just the way I look at things. In my field of science (and in other fields) there has been a fascinating increase in human accomplishments and achievements. The histories have been laid out for us to study.

    People will say film music and pop music are achievements, but for me it's all too predictable and derivative/imitative/lowbrow clichés. I enjoy playing the what I consider the good stuff, it's very clever, but what else can we study about it? I do study the clever things - don't get me wrong.. My life would be much poorer without the clever things.
    Albert Einstein, "I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.

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    Senior Member Luchesi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Forster View Post
    I'm not sure I follow. Are you saying that CM is superior to other genres, including 'film music'?
    Yes, and I have a list to back that up (for my life). But the more I converse with people here in this forum I'm always second-guessing my conclusions about this. In the history of science we can check things with repeatable evidence. We can update things and be confident of our conclusions.

    In the arts we need to know and understand the serious history - to take the place of repeatable evidence, so, we're on shaky ground. Again, this is my opinion. I cling to this view because I don't want to lose any of the value, for my life.
    Last edited by Luchesi; Jan-14-2022 at 21:55.
    Albert Einstein, "I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.

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    Senior Member Luchesi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Knox View Post
    Yes this is a tricky point, which is why I've avoided it -- for 2-1/2 months! First, we need a developmental perspective. It's pretty common for young classical piano students (teens or up to a few years younger) to be interested in playing pop music. But if they suspend their classical piano training, in my experience they may regret it later. Perhaps your seemingly austere, snobbish teacher also conveyed a sense of wisdom about the longer-term value of classical piano both for the student and the culture. Perhaps other individuals in your life did too. It's important to try for a just result for the student, parents, and teacher -- whether it's a balance, a focus on one or the other, or something else all together. And not forget that classical piano also can be a support for other activities. For you I'm glad it was all for the best -- the key word I think is "eventually."

    2 1/2 months, yeah, heh. It's even more divisive to say that children should be taught to be elitist about something that they should care about, for much later in their life. I understand that this would be considered insensitive today.

    When I was in the lower grades this approach was very successful with me. Many subjects have what we would call heroes (or maybe there's a better word). Think of Newton or Einstein. Can music history and music appreciation be inspiring with this approach? I do it a little bit with the young students I teach. We have statues of the great men and all that. I mean, I tell them how I rank the icons, and their eyes light up because they can understand this, as if it was part of their competitive world. Later they come back and say they would rank them differently and that's part of the learning process.
    Last edited by Luchesi; Jan-15-2022 at 02:53.
    Albert Einstein, "I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.

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    Senior Member fluteman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luchesi View Post
    How did they advance the art of music? and how did they develop from the earlier champions of the art of music? This is what I look for. This is what all the great composers did.
    I do agree with that, and imo Copland, Bernstein, Prokofiev and Shostakovich all qualify as great composers by that standard, and by a comfortable margin. Perhaps Bernstein is the least of these illustrious four, and even he was a revolutionary who had an enormous cultural impact. It's almost hard to imagine that West Side Story dates back to 1957 and lost the Tony award to The Music Man, a nostalgic look back at small town America and the days of John Philip Sousa.


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    Senior Member Luchesi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fluteman View Post
    I do agree with that, and imo Copland, Bernstein, Prokofiev and Shostakovich all qualify as great composers by that standard, and by a comfortable margin. Perhaps Bernstein is the least of these illustrious four, and even he was a revolutionary who had an enormous cultural impact. It's almost hard to imagine that West Side Story dates back to 1957 and lost the Tony award to The Music Man, a nostalgic look back at small town America and the days of John Philip Sousa.

    Outstanding dancing and musicians. But listening to the music alone, how many times? studying the score for ideas? Yes, it's interesting enough.
    I've recently found the full score of JC Superstar on an old HD of mine. Good ideas in it and it's fun to follow along with the movie.
    Albert Einstein, "I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.

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  13. #69
    Senior Member Forster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luchesi View Post
    Yes, and I have a list to back that up (for my life). But the more I converse with people here in this forum I'm always second-guessing my conclusions about this. In the history of science we can check things with repeatable evidence. We can update things and be confident of our conclusions.

    In the arts we need to know and understand the serious history - to take the place of repeatable evidence, so, we're on shaky ground. Again, this is my opinion. I cling to this view because I don't want to lose any of the value, for my life.
    There's nothing wrong in thinking that CM is serious and rewarding music, and everyone who loves it embraces it as part of their personality. I don't see it loses any value when it is regarded as one genre among many, of equal value to the people who create it and listen to it, without the need for establishing a hierarchy of superiority.

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    Senior Member Sid James's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Neo Romanza View Post
    I've been called a snob and, honestly, I don't even care. If having excellent taste in music and high musical standards is considered snobbery, then so be it.
    Quote Originally Posted by eljr View Post
    What is having "excellent taste in music"?

    I think I know what you mean by high musical standards but would enjoy conformation, would be so kind as to define that too?

    Thanks
    Don't know about you gents, but I always have a pair of earmuffs on hand, lest I be exposed to anything that would jeapardise my high musical standards.

    Last edited by Sid James; Jan-15-2022 at 09:58.
    Totally fossilised listener of highbrow music since the last century.

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    Senior Member fluteman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luchesi View Post
    Outstanding dancing and musicians. But listening to the music alone, how many times? studying the score for ideas? Yes, it's interesting enough.
    I've recently found the full score of JC Superstar on an old HD of mine. Good ideas in it and it's fun to follow along with the movie.
    JC Superstar, which imo is the best thing Andrew Lloyd Webber ever did, still is derivative and mediocre. Webber does not qualify as a great composer, to put it mildly, and is not remotely in the same league as Bernstein. I would put Webber in the same general class as Tiomkin, but a couple of steps lower.

    The main thing that puts Bernstein so far ahead of Webber or Tiomkin is the originality of his ideas. Cool, which I linked to above, owes more to Le Sacre du printemps than to the Broadway musical tradition. It may be harder to appreciate its originality now, but Brooks Atkinson immediately picked up on it in his review of the original production when it opened in New York.
    Last edited by fluteman; Jan-15-2022 at 17:53.

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  18. #72
    Senior Member Luchesi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Forster View Post
    There's nothing wrong in thinking that CM is serious and rewarding music, and everyone who loves it embraces it as part of their personality. I don't see it loses any value when it is regarded as one genre among many, of equal value to the people who create it and listen to it, without the need for establishing a hierarchy of superiority.
    The ranking and the resulting hierarchy of superiority is for the children and for the adult neophytes (and others for debating, of course, heh). To me, it's the same approach in all the arts. It's helpful, it saves time, why reinvent the wheel... There's no fears involved, there's no dictators.

    Maybe you think that people don't need guidance or a logical framework or a historical view (or music theory). Such is the stated opinions of many of our forum members, but I don't see how an educator can see things this way. Could you talk about that issue.

    Now it sounds like I'm browbeating you and I don't want to sound like that..
    Last edited by Luchesi; Jan-15-2022 at 20:29.
    Albert Einstein, "I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.

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    Senior Member Luchesi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fluteman View Post
    JC Superstar, which imo is the best thing Andrew Lloyd Webber ever did, still is derivative and mediocre. Webber does not qualify as a great composer, to put it mildly, and is not remotely in the same league as Bernstein. I would put Webber in the same general class as Tiomkin, but a couple of steps lower.

    The main thing that puts Bernstein so far ahead of Webber or Tiomkin is the originality of his ideas. Cool, which I linked to above, owes more to Le Sacre du printemps than to the Broadway musical tradition. It may be harder to appreciate its originality now, but Brooks Atkinson immediately picked up on it in his review of the original production when it opened in New York.
    I agree with your rankings of the composers (such as they are with entertainment music, I mean, so many extra-musical needs and cross-currents). But I find the songs in those productions to be very effective. 3 different lyricists.

    The numbers in JCS move along, refer to each other, and keep it light. They had to be careful with that subject matter. The sweeping, larger than life songs from the Phantom are just what that story needed in my opinion. It's amazing what he came up with.

    On second thought, I suspect that I really love the songs because they work so well for piano solos. Bernstein? I'm not familiar enough with every scene, but I don't think for me they would be piano solos. So I’m biased.
    Albert Einstein, "I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.

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    Senior Member Forster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luchesi View Post
    The ranking and the resulting hierarchy of superiority is for the children and for the adult neophytes (and others for debating, of course, heh). To me, it's the same approach in all the arts. It's helpful, it saves time, why reinvent the wheel... There's no fears involved, there's no dictators.

    Maybe you think that people don't need guidance or a logical framework or a historical view (or music theory). Such is the stated opinions of many of our forum members, but I don't see how an educator can see things this way. Could you talk about that issue.

    Now it sounds like I'm browbeating you and I don't want to sound like that..
    Speaking as an educator (now selfishly retired), I can report that I was required to deliver a set syllabus for all subjects of the primary curriculum (children aged 4-11 in the UK). At least, this was true for most of my years in the classroom. When I started teaching, there was no national curriculum. By the time I stopped advising schools, the national curriculum and its content had been revised at least three times.

    One of the debates about the curriculum and what it contained related to the idea of a hierarchy of knowledge. Put crudely, there was a tension between those who believed that children needed to learn specified facts in each subject, and those who believed the emphasis should be on skills and exploration.

    On the "facts" side, two dogmas prevailed. First, that there needed to be an acquisition of prior knowledge before moving on to the next stage of the curriculum, with the explicit aim of making sure that the universities received 18 year olds well-grounded in a broad classical general knowledge. (Moving into employment was always a secondary consideration; pathways for 14-16 year olds into apprenticeships and jobs were the poor relation of GCSEs and A Levels.)

    Second, most easily exemplified in English Literature, there was the hierarchy of knowledge itself. Dickens, Shakespeare, Byron were much more important (and by implication, 'superior to') than, say, Stoppard, Larkin and Bradbury.

    Over the past 30 years, early years education has become more prominent, with a strong move away from a set content for 3-5 year olds towards a more holistic and child-centred education. What this meant was that for those teaching the years between secondary school and nursery, the curriculum content was distorted as it tried to deal with 5 year olds arriving not wholly ready for school (not yet traditionally drilled in school readiness) and getting them ready for a secondary school that expected fully-filled and skilled vessels.

    Music was definitely a poor relation in primary schools. A lack of specialists, fear of performance, costs of equipment and lack of time meant that it was often squeezed out of the timetable.

    When I taught music - as a non-specialist - children listened to, talked about and wrote about music they heard, but there was no need for any hierarchy of superiority as I wasn't teaching them 'about classical music' or 'about pop music'. I used whatever music I fancied to explore rhythm and melody sufficient for them to be able to sing and play simple instruments.

    The idea that I had to teach children that LvB or WAM were the most preeminent and superior composers of the most superior form of music never entered my head. It didn't need to. Were I to contribute now to a debate about the content of a music curriculum, I'd happily include the information that these two, along with others, are generally regarded as pre-eminent composers, but that music is not a static art, nor is it to be segregated into genres or ghettoes. It would be just as important for a child of the modern classroom to know about the composers and musicians of today, and how they themselves can create music using modern techniques. If it was all about hierarchies, we'd all be stuck with Bach and Beethoven and time would stand still.

    As you can see, I'm happy talking about my experience as an educator - I don't feel brow-beaten.

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  22. #75
    Senior Member Luchesi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Forster View Post

    The idea that I had to teach children that LvB or WAM were the most preeminent and superior composers of the most superior form of music never entered my head. It didn't need to. Were I to contribute now to a debate about the content of a music curriculum, I'd happily include the information that these two, along with others, are generally regarded as pre-eminent composers, but that music is not a static art, nor is it to be segregated into genres or ghettoes. It would be just as important for a child of the modern classroom to know about the composers and musicians of today, and how they themselves can create music using modern techniques. If it was all about hierarchies, we'd all be stuck with Bach and Beethoven and time would stand still.

    As you can see, I'm happy talking about my experience as an educator - I don't feel brow-beaten.
    Thanks for the long post and congratulations on your retirement.

    Did any of the kids go on to pursue music so that they could personally express themselves much later, in their 30s and beyond?

    When I was beginning music lessons all the kids were learning guitar and guitar chords, because of the Beatles et al. What do kids have today, for self-motivation?

    I still think the kids need heroes (famous scientists, composers, painters, architects, inventors), which they can refer back to, years later as an interest in a field matures. I can remember kids in the neighborhood and I playing a card game with a welcoming, elderly lady. She wanted to keep us in from the (dangerous) street, as she said. It was the great composers with their likenesses on the back of each card. We could play three different types of games with the deck. It’s funny what you remember so well as being a guidepost from your youngest memories. We were 7 or 8 years old.
    Albert Einstein, "I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.

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