If you’ve been wondering who is responsible for dumbing down American musical culture, it’s people like Ronen Givony and me.  Givony, as many of you know, is the mini-Sol Hurok who is responsible for New York’s priceless Wordless Music series.  Like me, Givony is not a composer or musician or even someone who reads music.  But, also like me, he loves new music and wants to help nurture and promote the talented people who do.  The web has given us both platforms to indulge our desire to do so.  

According to Andrew Keen, that makes us the worst kind of well-meaning but dangerous and misinformed schmos.  We are”amateurs,” in the most perjorative sense.  Keen’s new book The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing our Culture blames the equalitarian nature of web publishing and self-promotion for everything from Britney to global warming.

I dunno.  Seems to me that influential “amateurs” have always been with us.  Weren’t a lot of the explorers and scientists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries people who simply pursued their discoveries, quite often using their own resources?  

I’m sure this august group can think of many examples of amateurs who have had some influence on the advancement of new music.  Share some of them with us, please.

p.s.  By the way, I am no longer an amateur web site builder and manager.  My first paid-for site called MyVenturepad opened for business yesterday.  Nice article today on the front page about the changing of the guard at Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe.

11 Responses to “The Sun’s Not Yellow, It’s Chicken”
  1. The magazine “Modern Music” promoted new music and, according to the editor, was responsible for developing the first american composer-writers.
    Relevant to this thread is that the first executive board (“The League of Composers,” broken off from Varese’s International League) was comprised of lay people—-“amatuers” of music-making, if you will—including an art dealer, a psychoanalyst, and three laywomen. One of these laywomen, Minna Lederman, served as the editor of the magazine for the entire run. See “The Life and Death of a Small Magazine, Modern Music, 1924-1946.”
    Steve, thanks for the reference on Cardus–I’ll take a look.

  2. Steven says:

    “If you’ve been wondering who is responsible for dumbing down American musical culture, it’s people like Ronen Givony and me”

    Oh; all this time it’s been you? Jeez, knock it off!

  3. Bill says:

    What’s ironic is that a high tech geek writes a book about the cultural effects of the internet and decries amateurism. Unless he’s also got a PhD in cultural history he’s an amateur himself.

  4. It’s all related to that rather modernist idea of ‘professional’ musicians knowing best, therefore amateurs would be the worst. Never mind that their heart is in it (hey, isn’t that the literal definition of amateur?), they really don’t know much as us professionals. Don’t try this at home, kids.

    It’s the same mentality that brought us “The Composer as Specialist”, or as we all know it, “Who Cares if you Listen?”

    Cool reference, Jeff. And, my thoughts exactly. I’ve had better gut reactions to my music from metal-heads than from some conservatory-types.

  5. Alan Theisen says:

    Every time I look at a blank piece of manuscript paper, I feel like an amateur.

  6. Steve Smith says:

    “The Amateur as Critic,” Terry Teachout’s fascinating new Commentary article about Neville Cardus, is required reading on the subject, i’d say. Here’s a sample quote:

    “Neville Cardus, who wrote for the Manchester Guardian from 1917 until shortly before his death in 1975, is now known solely as a writer of essays on the game of cricket. During his lifetime, though, he was also one of England’s foremost classical-music critics, a stylist so widely admired that his Autobiography (1947) became a best-seller. He was knighted in 1967, the first music critic to be so honored. Yet only one of his books is now in print, and his vast body of writings on music is unknown save to specialists.”

    Cardus, Teachout notes, almost certainly received no more than four years of schooling. And whether you agree entirely with his position or not, Cardus was very clear in stating it:

    “From the moment I gave up executive ability in music, I was free to cultivate the art of listening—which is an art sui generis. . . . For the critic of music should be the most enlightened and unprejudiced listener; it is his job, his full-time job, to hear and to receive music with a highly sensitized mind, governed by psychological and aesthetic insight. He is an artist with experiences in music his material.”

    Definitely worth taking a moment to read.

  7. Borodin was a chemist and composer. Not exactly new music, but he did have influence in his own time.

    Then there is this: “He grew up in a house without elctricity or running water. He came from a large family where the income was irregular. His parents died before he was 12 and he had to live with an older brother. What are his chances of success in music?”

    To find out you have to listen to the St. Matthew passion…

  8. Rodney Lister says:

    Well, the first person who comes to mind is Diaghilev. He didn’t hurt the development of music or of world culture too much.

  9. I haven’t read Keen’s book, but based on interviews he’s given it seems pretty idiotic.

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