I’ve been thinking a lot about how people engage and interact with music.
I think about this as an educator but also as a general line of inquiry.
People perform music vocally and/or instrumentally, yes. That is a given.
Most people listen to music, actively or not. This is also a given.
I can’t help but think that people in general only see these two, listening and performing, as the main, or the only, or even the best way of interacting with music. I am speaking from a Western perspective here.
Or perhaps I am speaking as a music major here… one who observes a lot of Westerners.
The next method on the list of musical interaction is probably dance.
Composing, arranging, conducting, DJing, mixing, teaching, writing, therapy…ing?
‘Therapying’ isn’t a word. Healing? I was trying to go for a list of ways with “ing.”
The point is that there are so many ways to interact with music, or even art as a whole.
Why am I talking about this? Let me tell you a few short stories.
A student once approached me after class to thank me for showing her how people around the world use music in their daily lives. She was so happy because she was told that she could not be involved with music. She had always thought of music as just listening or playing… but mostly playing and she did not want to limit herself to just listening.
She is now signed up for Berklee online classes in music business and production.
A music major I met at a conference told me that unless one can perform well, either vocally or instrumentally, one should not engage deeply with music in terms of writing and critique or even in terms of general discussion.
I think, or at least hope, this person was trying to say that one shouldn’t judge another person’s performance without understanding how to sing or play said instrument.
I’m not so sure, however. The wording was quite specific.
How can I say to someone, anyone, that they shouldn’t engage with music because they can’t or don’t perform? How is that correct in any way?
Performing is not the only way to engage with music.
It is certainly a great way, but definitely not the only way.
I hear people state comments about performance as superior to all other forms of music engagement more often than I would care to guess.
“But music is meant to be performed!”
Yes, it is.
It is also meant to be heard, and danced to, and written about, and written down (sometimes), and remixed, and placed into movies, and video games, and websites, and ringtones, and apps.
I applaud performance and I don’t think it should be taken away in any form.
I love performing and gain much joy from it.
But this notion that performance is the superior way to involve oneself in music…
No. That can’t be right.
K-12 education champions the band, choir, orchestra model… and a general music for everyone else…
I applaud band, choir, and orchestra. I think we need those in our schools and in our lives.
I also applaud finding other ways for students, people, and communities to interact with music.
I don’t think non-performance engagement should be deemed as lesser.
Is the regular symphony concert attendee not engaging with music?
What about the rock aficionado with shelves of 48s?
What if that young man in the back of the room isn’t the best trumpet player, but is the next best mixer or DJ?
That lady in the coffee shop? What if she was told that she could never write music just because she can’t play the guitar well? What if she was actually the next big composer the world will never discover because someone said that she had to also be an amazing performer for people to take her seriously?
What if a young student didn’t want to play an instrument but was instinctually brilliant at music software and arranging? Then that student was told that they couldn’t arrange because no one would take them seriously… because they were not a performer… or a great performer…
That last one is a former classmate.
These what-ifs happen a lot more than I would like to count.
There is a strange hierarchy surrounding some music professionals.
Again: I think performance is important to music. I would never say otherwise.
However, by making it the pinnacle of music engagement, we just might be alienating others that could be an ally in the cause to make music more relevant in people’s lives and in schools.
We, the music makers and music professionals, shout and scream and holler about the budget cuts and the lack of music as we want it in the schools and in the general Western world.
We lament the loss of symphony attendees.
What if we found other ways of interacting with music for others? Or what if we at least said that their music engagement is enough so long as music is a part of their lives?
What if we valued the recording engineer, who also identifies as “artist,” and said that they are just as valid and important as performers?
I know not all music professionals think like this, but I have met enough of them that do. I also just wanted to engage in an exercise concerning how to think about music.
Thank you for engaging in it with me.