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You might think that as musical genres splinter listeners would develop more specialized musical tastes, focusing their interests on a smaller number of genres, but some new research from Zogby International and the Norman Lear center provides some interesting perspective on the situation.  Their survey is fairly broad, covering a wide variety of areas of culture and not going into much specific detail in any area, but one of their questions was “What types of music do you enjoy.”

It turns out that younger generations enjoy on average a larger number of genres than older generations do:

Number of Enjoyed Genres

Furthermore, if you break down the enjoyment of genres by age demographic, you find two interesting things: First, in the younger demographics the distribution of enjoyment is more even, with a smaller difference between the percent of the population who enjoys the least popular genre and those who enjoy the most popular genre.  In the 18-24 demographic, enjoyment of World is 20.17% and Rock is 80.26%, a difference of 60.09%, whereas in the 70+ demographic enjoyment of Punk is at 0% and enjoyment of Classical is at 73.45%.  Second, even though enjoyment is more evenly distributed, enjoyment of the most popular genre is higher in the younger demographics than in the older demographics–enjoyment of Rock is at 80.26% in the 18-24 demographic, and enjoyment of classical in the 70+ demographic is 73.45%.  Here are the graphs:






This survey unfortunately doesn’t differentiate among different degrees of enjoyment, so it’s hard to draw any firmer conclusions.  For example, enjoyment of Classical in the 25-29 demographic is number 3 at 62.32% and in the 55-64 demographic it’s number 1 at 62.46%.  As close as those numbers appear, it seems likely that the older demographic has higher intensity of enjoyment for Classical, but there’s no way to tell from this study.  Nonetheless, the results that we can see are quite interesting.

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Responses have been rolling in from across the blogosphere to Richard Taruskin’s epic New Republic assault on classical music chauvinism, and now that his detractors have had the opportunity to state their objections let’s take a look at the criticisms and see what to make of them.  Before I begin, I should say that I loved the piece””Taruskin made many of the same arguments I’ve been making for years, but with more depth and more academic rigor.  To be fair, I haven’t read the books he critiques, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of his specific objections””it’s the more general philosophical approach to the issues that I’m praising. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mark N. Grant, over at NewMusicBox, has an essay on the legacy of “West Side Story” which starts out well but then descends into a pretty unreasonable hatchet job on modern Musical Theatre.

“Clearly Bernstein still matters, but does West Side Story, in today’s musical theater world? Broadway never really picked up his cue, that symphonic continuity could meld the gutbucket vernacular.” 

I’m not quite clear on his meaning of ”symphonic continuity,” but there are a couple of options.  If he means “stealing specific melodies from classical composers,” I’m not enough of a musical theatre fan to cite examples but I’d be shocked if there aren’t plenty, and using that as a metric for the health of the genre seems pretty odd.  But if he means “thinking about the whole piece as a cohesive, musically interrelated work” or “applying the aesthetics of classical music” (and I think that’s probably what he does mean) then it’s simply not true.  Some of the biggest hits of the 80s and 90s — Phantom, Les Mis, Miss Saigon, etc. — are more through-composed than West Side Story, are heavily indebted to both the instruments and the aesthetics of classical music (again, more so than WSS, which is more jazzy than any of those three) and rest heavily on long term structural elements (borrowed, to a certain extent, from opera) with different songs and themes returning in different contexts and combinations.  And speaking of “through-composed,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard” is basically an opera, with recetative and everything.

Mark also cites Bernstein’s ballets.  I can’t speak to the question of whether there have been Broadway ballets in recent history, but again I don’t see why having composed a ballet is a fair test of whether a composer “thinks symphonically,” and there’s certainly plenty of dance of many different types in modern musical theatre.  Incedentally, in the aforementioned “Sunset Boulevard”  I don’t believe there are any actual dance numbers, but the whole show was not just blocked but choreographed by an actual dance choreographer.

“Bernstein may perhaps not be our greatest songwriter or opera composer, but he is arguably our greatest theater composer, if “theater composer” means the polymorphous compass embracing The Age of Anxiety (excerpts of which Kogan also played at the Guggenheim), On the Town‘s ballets, Trouble in Tahiti, Candide, Mass, et al.”

First, if we’re counting Bernstein’s Mass as part of the evidence of his versatility as a “theatre composer” it’s only fair to note that Andrew Lloyd Weber wrote a Requiem.  Second, using versatility as a metric for “greatest theatre composer” is silly.  Wagner wrote almost nothing but opera, and yet most people think of him as far greater than any number of composers who worked in a much wider variety of forms.  I’m not going to engage the claim that Bernstein is our greatest theatre composer–I agree that he’s great, but such questions of personal aesthetic preference have no place in this sort of argument, as they tend to foment bad reasoning.  In fact, Mark goes on to say:

“The Cameron MacKintoshes, Disneys, Nederlanders, and Shuberts have ensured that there is no room for this kind of composing in the commercial American theater today.”

If you start from the premise that Bernstein is objectively the greatest, and that the kind of work he did was objectively the greatest, then of course any work that diverges significantly from that archetype will be inferior by definition.  But Mark doesn’t get to declare who and what is objectively “greatest,” so he’s starting from a false premise.  Anyway, moving on:

“That’s a scathing indictment of the entrenched philistinism of our marketing culture and the downtrend of 50 years of audience ‘development.’”

The idea that the marketing culture was ever not philistine is absurd — “West Side Story” was a commercial product, and a highly successful one at that, which appealed to its target demographic.  Mark just personally likes and respects that target demo more than the target demo for contemporary musical theatre.  The people who paid for it and marketed ”West Side Story” were no less trying to make money than the producers of the Lion King are; and furthermore, the producers of modern Broadway shows are every bit as much believers in the artistic value of their product as any producers in history–which is to say they believe, but they also want to make a buck.

I’m not a big musical theatre fan, but it remains a valid artform, and Mark’s criticisms don’t have legs.  There’s a big difference between saying “I don’t enjoy modern musical theatre and I wish it were more like X” and claiming that the people who do enjoy it are the defective product of a 50 year “downtrend in audience ‘development’.”

To me, the greatness of Leonard Bernstein as a cultural figure is not that he somehow elevated crass popular culture by trying to transform it into something of greater value; instead by being equally comfortable in both worlds, and by bringing them together, he undermines the very notion that popular culture is somehow inferior.  “Phantom of the Opera” is in many ways a perfect example of the legacy of this marriage.  Perhaps my favorite iconic example of Bernstein’s melding of the popular with the classical is how he stuck a giant “Mahler Grooves” bumper sticker across the inside cover and title page of his copy of the Mahler 6th Symphony.  I’ve seen it.  It’s awesome.

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There’s a great profile by Michael White in Sunday’s New York Times of the Really Terrible Orchestra.  This amateur orchestra apparently has quite a cult following and will be performing the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh this coming Sunday.

The orchestra is comprised of amateur musicians who are successful at their real jobs but not at all good at their instruments.  Principal bassoonist Alexander McCall Smith, who is apparently a best-selling children’s author, explains: “But I have trouble with C sharps “” a design fault of the instrument, I think “” which means I don’t play them. . . And some of our members are really very challenged. We have one dire cellist who has the names of the strings written on his bridge. Otherwise he can’t remember what they are.”

White makes an interesting and apt comparison with Cornelius Cardew’s (in)famous Scratch Orchestra and its spawn the Portsmouth Sinfonia, and asks the question “Why do people love bad art?”  He offers two answers.

The first is schadenfreude, which seems adequate to explaining how we enjoy the humor value of bad art.  Much in the way that the sitcom relies on putting its characters in unpleasant situations, we enjoy laughing at the exceedingly poorly crafted.  Douglas Adams’s brilliantly awful Vogon poetry, which I reference in the title of this post, is a classic example of the hilariously bad, but on a more mundane level, who doesn’t enjoy making fun of bad celebrity fashion, and there’s nothing like a yo mamma joke.

White offers a second, more serious explanation as well: “But there’s another reason, surely, for the cult of bad art, and it has to do with liberation: the anarchic pleasure of disorder, the repudiation of established rules of judgment. Bad art is an invitation to escape the formal boundaries of adulthood and be a child, delighting in the rude and raw.”  This seems true as far as it goes.  Allowing oneself to enjoy art which fails to conform to normal standards of beauty and quality can be liberating–can offer a measure of freedom from the hegemony of the established aesthetic order.  More than mere experiential pleasure, we also get the joy of defiance; by loving the bad we establish ourselves as individuals, as contrarians, as masters of our own aesthetics in spite of the pressures to conform to society’s expectations.  That really bad art serves better than merely mediocre art for this purpose may be because with mediocre art we run the risk of being seen as appreciating it for the wrong reasons””that maybe we actually have poorly refined taste and think the work is good.  An ocean of lawn ornaments is aesthetically much more acceptable than a single pink flamingo, because the single flamingo smacks of an attempt at refined restraint.

I think there’s one more reason we love bad art, though: it can be a source of actual beauty””beauty that only exists in the “bad art” context where you have to hear past the ugly to get to it, but beauty nonetheless.

This American Life no longer offers free webstreams of old episodes, but in January of 1999 they had a show about “people trying to use numbers to describe things that should not be quantified.”  In Act II, we hear about Alex Melamid, Vitaly Komar, and David Soldier, who conducted a survey to find out what people wanted and didn’t want to hear in music.  They then wrote two songs, one based on the most wanted characteristics and one based on the least wanted characteristics.  It turns out, of course, that the “Most Wanted” song is horribly saccharine and in most ways pathetic.  Not “bad” per se, just not worth hearing.  The “Least Wanted” song, however, is amazing.  Here’s the description from their website:

“The most unwanted music is over 25 minutes long, veers wildly between loud and quiet sections, between fast and slow tempos, and features timbres of extremely high and low pitch, with each dichotomy presented in abrupt transition. The most unwanted orchestra was determined to be large, and features the accordion and bagpipe (which tie at 13% as the most unwanted instrument), banjo, flute, tuba, harp, organ, synthesizer (the only instrument that appears in both the most wanted and most unwanted ensembles). An operatic soprano raps and sings atonal music, advertising jingles, political slogans, and “elevator” music, and a children’s choir sings jingles and holiday songs. The most unwanted subjects for lyrics are cowboys and holidays, and the most unwanted listening circumstances are involuntary exposure to commericals and elevator music. Therefore, it can be shown that if there is no covariance””someone who dislikes bagpipes is as likely to hate elevator music as someone who despises the organ, for example””fewer than 200 individuals of the world’s total population would enjoy this piece.”

The result is terrible, and yet. . . strangely genuinely aesthetically satisfying.  The reason, I think, is that by combining these unlikely features the composer has stumbled on good material that he would never have found if he had set out to write a good piece.  It’s sort of like what Robert Altman used to say about his movies””that the handful of best moments were always accidents, but he worked in ways that cultivated those happy accidents.  Or it’s like the “Oblique Strategies” card deck for provoking unconventional artistic decisions.  But the sheer badness of the song is also important here””the context of badness washes away our standard criteria for aesthetic judgements and allows for the unfettered perspective on the material that permits us to see the value of the interesting moments.

Perhaps a better example to illustrate that last point is the cult film “Faster Pussycat Kill Kill.”  Truly this is an awful movie, and as I recall the packaging declares it to have been “filmed in glorious blue and white.”  Sure enough, it was shot in monochrome, but instead of black and white it’s blue and white.  I doubt that very many “good” movies could pull that off, but it’s actually a rather beautiful way to capture images.  Because blue and white is compatible with the badness of the rest of the film, we’re actually in a position to appreciate its beauty whereas if the movie were good the blue and white would seem out of place and we wouldn’t be able to appreciate it.

Returning closer to the work of the Really Terrible Orchestra, there can also be beauty in accidents.  Composer and Sound Artist Brenda Hutchinson (speaking of bad movies, she did the soundtrack for “Liquid Sky”) has a piece that illustrates this point well.  Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find a reference to it on the web, so Brenda if you’re out there please forgive any errors in my description.  As I recall, she was walking home late one night in New York and carrying her tape recorder when she came upon a group of guys who were totally drunk and trying to sing barbershop.  They had good voices and sang with the exaggerated confidence of the inebriated.  She asked them to sing “America the Beautiful” for her, and she recorded it, adding a gradually swelling reverb to the recording in post-production.  It’s not a good performance””they hit wrong notes all over the place””but the mistakes often “work.”  The don’t necessarily work in ways where you would be able to do an arrangement of the song incorporating their mistakes and have it sound good, but in the context those mistakes are beautiful, and the final piece is breathtaking.  These are similar discoveries to the sorts of things that Cage and Ives were looking for, but it turns out that in addition to finding them through chance processes and collage you can also find them just by being really terrible.

So to the Really Terrible Orchestra I have this to say: You suck!  And that’s probably for the best.

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A couple of days ago, when I posted this comment on the Christian Science Monitor’s article on DRM and hi-fi music downloads, I also sent an e-mail off to the Editors.  I expected my note to dissapear into the great bit bucket in the sky, and certainly the Monitor would have been entirely justified in reading my e-mail, deleting it, and then moving on to deal with more important matters.  But instead, I was pleasantly surprised to get an e-mail this morning from Stephen Humphries, the Weekend Section Editor, and we exchanged a few e-mails.  He had passed my concern on to Brian Wise, the author of the piece in question, who said:

“As for the e-mail from your reader, I see his point: there are in theory ways to present music with DRM and also without compression. However, because of the way Apple has bundled the two, you really won’t see one without the other in the marketplace. Thus when EMI decided to drop DRM recently, the audio files were suddenly at a much higher bit rate and also much larger sizes. Conversely, retailers like eMusic or Magnatune don’t use DRM and also don’t use compression. I asked several of my sources about that point and they all agreed that the link is pretty solid. Hope that helps…”

That’s a pretty reasonable point.  As long as the industry essentially always ties DRM to high fidelity audio and vice versa, the rise of non-DRM files does mean increased availability of high quality downloadable music, which is indeed good news for audiophiles of all stripes.  While I would have preferred  clarity in the original piece that DRM isn’t itself the problem, Wise’s basic thesis seems valid.

Perhaps more interesting, though, is what Humphries had to say about CSM’s coverage of classical music:

“We are trying to boost our coverage of classical music by looking for fresh trends and new developments in that area of music. We’re also going to be running occasional roundup reviews of recent classical music releases, too.”

Obviously, we’ll have to wait and see how successfully they deliver, but in light of the recent news about the Atlanta Journal Constitution and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, this sounds very promising.

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In today’s Christian Science Monitor, there’s and article by Brian Wise on the issues of Digital Rights Management, or DRM, and of the desire by classical music fans for hi-fidelity downloads instead of lossily compressed .mp3 files.  But he makes a claim which just doesn’t seem to add up:

“By removing the layer of software known as digital rights management, or DRM, customers can not only play their music on any device they choose (PCs, Macs, and iPods), but they also may stand to benefit from improved sound quality. . . Industry figures are hopeful that dropping copy protection – thus allowing for big, clear-sounding and noncompressed audio files – will generate even stronger interest in classical downloads. ”

Why would there be any correlation between the use of DRM and the fidelity of the recording?  Surely DRM can be applied to any sort of file you want to apply it to, including non-compressed or losslessly compressed files.

I’m all in favor of both the elimination of DRM and of making high fidelity recordings available for sale on the web, but I don’t see how they’re related, and an article like this is only going to confuse the public about the issues.  Unless, of course, I’m the one who’s confused and there really is a legitimate link.  Anybody know something I don’t know?

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Now that the discussion of the merit or lack of merit of the Pulitzer board’s choice of winners for this year is winding down, I’d like to turn your attention to something that you may have missed.

According to the “Plan of Award” document on the Pulitzer website, “Entries must be submitted in writing” and “All entries should include biographies and pictures of entrants and each entry in journalism, letters and music must be accompanied by a handling fee of $50 made payable to Columbia University/Pulitzer Prizes.”  This is a perfectly reasonable set of criteria–you can’t win if you don’t enter the competition, and in order to enter the competition you have to pay a modest fee.  There is some debate in our community as to whether charging entry fees for competitions is ethical, but there is clearly value to the management of the prize to setting a relatively low entry fee to ensure that the people who enter the competition think they have a shot at winning–that way you don’t have five thousand entries of whatever people could throw together just for the heck of entering.  And sure enough, the combination of the reputation of the prize as difficult to win and the entry fee keeps the number of applications down–this year there were 129 entries for the music prize.

But Ornette Coleman didn’t submit his album “Sound Grammar” for the award–apparently the jury was disappointed not to see it among the entries (and I’ve heard they were also disappointed by a lack of Jazz entries in general) and went out an picked up a copy themselves.  And as we know, they ultimately included “Sound Grammar” in their nominations to the Board, and the Board selected it for the prize.  Given the rules for consideration, this can mean only one of two things: either Coleman wasn’t in fact eligible for the award and thus technically didn’t win the prize, or the jury has just revoked the rules for submission.  If the former is true, I expect the Pulitzer board to take back Coleman’s award and either announce a new winner selected from among the eligible entries or declare that there is no winner for 2007.  But until such an announcement is made, we have no choice but to assume that the old submission rules have been repealed and that composers can now enter the competition without paying the fee.

So spread the word.  I want to hear next year that they got those five thousand applications.  The deadline (although it too has arguably been overturned) is January 15th, 2008. Mark your calendar, pick your best piece for the year, and send it in.  Tell your rock and jazz buddies, too, since the whole point of this exercise is to offer a truly representative sampling of American music.

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There’s an interesting quote toward the end of Anne Midgette’s article about Ingram Marshall in the Times:

“Mr. Marshall has been called a postminimalist, a term he dislikes. He prefers the term postmodern, noting that although he has drawn on textures and techniques of composers like Mr. Reich, ‘what was important was not the process as much as the expressive use of it.’”

Of course, drawing on minimalist techniques for the sake of their expressiveness while not worrying too much about the techniques for their own sake is practically the definition of postminimalism.  Certainly he’s out there on the neoromantic end of postminimalism along with Adams and Part, but  postminimalist is a perfectly reasonable label, and postmodern is hopelessly broad.  It’s a good thing his music is so good that it can speak for itself, because the poor guy is obviously in denial.

All of this reminds me that I still owe you people the next installment of my “What The Heck Is Postminimalism” series.  Soon.  Really.  Any day now.  Really.

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In Sunday’s Washington Post, Gene Weingarten asks an interesting question: what would happen “if one of the world’s great violinists had performed incognito before a traveling rush-hour audience of 1,000-odd people?”  As it happens, Weingarten and the Post arranged to perform this experiment with the aid of virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell, playing his $3.5 Million Stradivarius.  The article is well written, delving into the philosophy of aesthetics, and the importance of context, and tentatively concluding that “we can’t look at what happened on January 12 and make any judgment whatever about people’s sophistication or their ability to appreciate beauty.”  Bell comes off well too””modest enough, and wise enough to the ways of the mainstream media, to have as his sole condition for participation be that the word “genius” not be used to describe him or his work, and to be concerned that by playing in the L’Enfant station of the Washington DC Metro he might be an unwelcome intrusion into the lives of the passersby.  Certain segments of the Internet are giving it a lot of attention, and some people are, unsurprisingly, in an uproar, but there’s no reason to be either surprised or dismayed by the results of the experiment.

Skill at a task, such as the performance of music on a violin, is subject to diminishing returns.  I, who have had my hands on a violin for no more than 20 minutes total in my life, could become dramatically better with a single lesson, but the more I work the less improvement I see for each hour of practice time – the better you get the harder it is to get better.  This means that the difference in quality between people at different levels gets smaller as you go up the ladder, and Joshua Bell, even if we declare that he’s the world’s greatest living violinist, is realistically not that much better than a good subway musician.  This doesn’t diminish Bell’s accomplishments””the ground between him and those musicians is extraordinarily difficult to cover””but it means that from a practical standpoint having Bell as the variable in your experiment doesn’t change the equation all that much.

Apply the same logic to the Strad that Bell was playing.  I believe the people who say that they are the best violins ever made, but modern violin making is awfully good and the divide between the good violin and the Stradivarius is pretty narrow.  Again, if you’re Joshua Bell and you’re trying to be the best the small edge that a Strad gives you is worth worrying about, but treating the violin as a variable in the subway experiment changes the results of the equation very little.

Furthermore, in order to perceive the small differences we’re talking about you need a decent acoustic space and you need to be paying attention.  Presumably the subway platform is a pretty substandard venue and will seriously detract from the quality of the sound, making those key differences hard to hear.  And to a large extent the kinds of subtleties that distinguish a Joshua Bell from a Joe Professional Musician are not the kinds of things that jump out and grab your attention – you have to be looking for them.  This is why college students use kegs of Milwaukee’s Best for chugging and save the Sam Adams for occasions when they want to savor the taste.  Commuters would have to decide they wanted to listen to Bell before the would be able to hear that he’s a world class musician, and they have other things on their minds.

Consider also the fact that most of the classical music that people hear consists of recordings of professional musicians, and many of them have heard recordings of Bell himself although they probably don’t know it.  Hearing music played at a skill level approximate to what you are accustomed to is not surprising or attention-grabbing.   He probably would have garnered more attention if he had played badly, since that would have been surprising.  Heck, even the guys who sing along with the automatic accompaniment on their 1990s era Casio keyboards generally sing pretty well.

So for starters, there’s no reason to think that having Joshua Bell play the DC Metro is going to produce different results from having your average good subway musician play there.  It’s a cute gimmick, and given how it seems to have surprised and dismayed some people perhaps worth undertaking.  I won’t even go into how using Bell for this experiment smacks of Classical Music Chauvinism, although Weingarten does a much better job than most reporters do at avoiding that temptation.

Given that adding Joshua Bell into the experiment shouldn’t make a difference, what do we say about the fact that so few people stop to appreciate a first-rate performance of some first-rate music when they encounter it on the subway platform on a routine basis?  Are we cold and soulless?  Is it that we value getting to work on time more than we value art, and if so does that say something bad about our society?  Are we uneducated and thus incapable of recognizing great art when we see or hear it?  I don’t think so.  In fact I would suggest just the opposite””our lives are so full of art that we can afford to pass it by when we have something else going on.  Maybe that guy playing the guitar at the 116th Street station won’t be there the next time I pass through, but in the meantime I have my iPod for the train ride, internet radio all day, architecture each time I step into the street, graphic design when I look at advertising posters, my iPod on the way home, maybe some other subway musician if my train doesn’t show up, television or radio or a movie or a book when I get home.  And if I want to go out in the evening I can go to a concert or a play or a movie or a gallery or a poetry reading or a nightclub.  Everywhere I look people are wearing beautiful clothing.  The food that I eat is prepackaged and sometimes prepared for me, so it’s usually good and sometimes outstanding.  Sure, some of this art is better than others, but the overall average quality is better now than it has ever been in human history, and its availability is vastly greater.  Why be late for work to hear a violinist in a lousy acoustic space playing music I can hear on the radio even if from the few moments I hear as I approach he sounds like he’s probably pretty good?  I live in a society so rich with art that I can afford to miss this opportunity and get my art someplace more convenient.

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“As a performer, however, it’s seductive to think that I can gain instant credibility with ordinary listeners by dropping some phat 808s. It’s natural to want to please an audience; is it unethical to take advantage of their ignorance (in the most nonjudgmental sense) and cultural conditioning (in the most judgmental sense) to do so?”

This is a quote from the end of Colin Holter’s latest at NewMusicBox.  He’s discussing the fact that many audience members are substantially more likely to enjoy a piece, or even to consider it music, if it has a rock-style drum beat or other regular pulse element.  It’s an interesting question, and has garnered some excellent discussion in the comments over there – it’s worth reading the whole essay and the comments thread below it.

His question is really a corollary to the old question “how do I decide what kind of music to write, given the preferences of the audience, my desire to be loved, and my aesthetic preferences.”  The short, easy answer to that question is that you should write whatever the heck you want to write and be happy with what ever audience happens to like it.  (This is the part of “Who Cares If You Listen” that Babbitt got right but which he rarely gets credit for.)  The question then becomes “is it ethical to deviate from your personal aesthetic preferences in order to appeal to a larger segment of the public,” and that question has nothing to do with “taking advantage” of anybody’s “ignorance.”  My answer to that question is that it’s a personal choice.  If you feel that it would be wrong for you to do it, it’s wrong for you to do it, but if you’re comfortable with it you should go ahead.  Appealing to the audience is a valid artistic goal.  Appealing to a massive popular audience is a valid artistic goal.  Making money is a valid artistic goal.  (I’m serious.  The fetishization of art as superior to economic concerns is nonsense.  Difficult or impossible to integrate with economic concerns, sure, but not because of some sort of spiritual transcendence hogwash.)

Now we can get down to the issue of “taking advantage of their ignorance.”  The unstated premise behind this question is that there are valid and non-valid reasons for appreciating a given piece of art — that the “ignorant” audience can be tricked into liking (and possibly paying to hear) a piece that they otherwise wouldn’t like by the addition of an element that they are wrong to attach value to.  Why should you get to dictate the terms on which an audience is allowed and not allowed to appreciate a piece?  Aesthetics isn’t universal law, it’s personal preference.  Certainly one might add a rock beat to a piece and thereby make it more appealing to a general audience while at the same time not effecting (or even undermining) the things that the composer values about the piece, but the audience should be permitted to have its own tastes.  If you don’t want anybody to like your piece for the “wrong” reasons, don’t include those elements.  But if you do include them, the only unethical act would be to presume that your aesthetic values are superior to somebody else’s.

It’s worth noting that adding a rock beat isn’t the only way in which composers can cater to the tastes of their audience.  A short list of other strategies might include: writing tonally, writing atonally, adding dissonance to your tonal music, adding consonance to your atonal music, writing for more traditional instruments, writing for more obscure instruments, writing for film, refusing to write for film, writing in older styles, writing in modern styles, using simple rhythm, using complex rhythm, etc.  Whether it’s pandering depends on whether the composer is compromising his or her preferred technique.  (And as I said, whether pandering is “wrong” depends on whether the composer feels bad about it.)  The next question would be this: Should we draw a philosophical distinction between the composer who compromises his preferred style and the composer who has been successfully brainwashed by some element of the culture to prefer to write in a given style?  Cuz we all fall into the latter category. . .

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