About a century ago, the idea of art for art’s sake was a hot debate. Here and now in the US, it seems that music and art have to have some kind of purpose. Any grant application is required to address the ‘community’ issue. Should music serve the community beyond various levels of entertainment-enlightainment? Does a piece have to have an actual subject matter that addresses community issues? Or involve participants that are meaningful to a community?

In the days of Bach, a piece was commissioned by the church or the aristocracy for the purpose of worship or celebration. It did have a built-in social purpose. Romanticism focused on the individual, and brought about a change of purpose: in fact, a piece would stand on its own as a means of expression for the composer. In the 20th century in the US, music has been a factor of social evolution. As African American music gradually dominated popular music, racial integration took place, and as White kids listened to the blues, rock music was born. For a while, it served as a factor of liberation, although not women’s… I remember the days of all-girl bands – a necessity when the guys wouldn’t let us play the guitars with them. Unfortunately, those same rock tunes that spelled revolution are now aired as background to television commercials – time has eroded their edge.

To charge a music event with definite community content promotes timidity and leans towards hackneyed formulas. Aren’t artists doing enough for the community by pioneering iffy neighborhoods and turning them into valued real estate, only to be kicked out a few years later? Isn’t that enough community service? Can’t we have a little leeway here, when it comes to content?

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