Why can’t we articulate the value of music to society?

Why can’t we articulate the value of music to society?


norman lebrecht

December 04, 2013

I took part a couple of months back in a round-table on music education at the Royal Academy of Music, published this week in the Guardian. Although the conversation was conducted under Chatham House rules, meaning that views expressed were unattributable, I am happy to claim ownership of the following quote:

“People in music know what highly skilled music students can do, and what music adds to the lives of people, but we keep saying society does not understand,” added another. “Why? Either because we can’t articulate our own value, or because we refuse to engage with society.”


royal academy of music


  • Anderrin says:

    As much as I adore music I have to admit that Steven Pinker was mostly right:

    “As far as biological cause and effect are concerned, music is useless. It shows no signs of design for attaining a goal such as long life, grandchildren, or accurate perception and prediction of the world.

    Compared with language, vision, social reasoning, and physical know-how, music could vanish from our species and the rest of our lifestyle would be virtually unchanged. Music appears to be a pure pleasure technology, a cocktail of recreational drugs that we ingest through the ear to stimulate a mass of pleasure circuits at once”

    • Will Duffay says:

      It’s no more or less useless than the other arts, though, all of which would fail Pinker’s criterion of ‘design’ [sic] for attaining the goals he mentions.

      In fact, you could argue that much of civilisation would fail his test. The social and personal benefit, however, which will have a tangential or indirect impact towards Pinker’s goals, is pretty clear.

    • Gary Carpenter says:

      A sort of aural clitoris then…

    • Poor Mr. Pinker obviously never knew what it is to have a song in one’s heart.

      • Anderrin says:


        What Pinker is saying is that music never contributed anything to the propagation of the species. To a biologist, that is what counts.

        Biologists use the word “adaptive” to describe a trait that is cultivated by evolution. Anything that increases an individual’s chances of passing its genes along to the next generation is adaptive.

        Music, Pinker argues, is not adaptive. He sees no evidence that having rhythm or being a good singer ever helped a person survive or generate more offspring.

        Pinker believes that music is something humans invented and then cultivated because it tweaks our brains and bodies in a pleasurable way. In other words, humans invented music because they enjoyed it.

    • MWnyc says:

      The practical result of Anderrin’s observation, as summed up in the quote I heard attributed* to dear old Thomas Beecham,

      “Music is something people can get along without, and if it costs too much, they will.”

      * Google isn’t offering me any citation, so TB may not actually have said this. Anyone else here recognize it?

    • Tim Anderson says:

      What about music, or ‘musicking’, as a tool with which to broaden minds, expand intellects, encourage innovation and creativity, foster imagination etc. etc.? These are all things that are, to my mind, necessary for the continued success of the human race… The survival instinct may be motivated by primal urges, but in a world as complex as it is today, what about actually facilitating it?

  • music you can’t touch as other arts but is one of the deepest values, maybe the most untoucheble. How to value this in our society who is based on benefit values, but here the word value is not at his place. Our kapitalisme system failed but some want to keep it till the end.

    Music will be always there but the value of a melody coming from a soul of a human being is so difficult to control and putting there a value on in our society is for them difficult, so difficult than better not to mention it and going to something which they can have power on because music goes over their power. There are already so many examples in history. Some leaders used the music, they were clever, maybe sometimes misused but … now they try to ignore art because they changed some letters to useless which I don’t agree at all. They see everything in terms of business which is not in art. Art is the language of the soul and fantasy which is intelligence and for some very difficult !

  • Yes, generally music makers refuse to engage their music with society. A manager of an ailing (Swiss) festival told me the other day: I do not want more audience, I want only audience who comes for the “right reasons”, meaning they already love classical music.

    The proof of the music is the hearing. Never the talking and reading about. In some of my rather comprehensive market reseach I figured that we can convert almost 80% of non-classical-goers into genuinly interested people by just getting them once! into a full (25′ or more) concert. Even with Bruckner Symphonies or Smetana String Quartets.

    So setting up interesting, easy to access (combined) venues with acceptable programs and luring people in (free beer, every 50th a trip to Hawai …) will do the trick.

    Now go and find musicians who will participate in such a market development scheme. Very hard to find! No caviar to the general is a common attitude there. It is exactly this attitude ONLY who endangers classical music. All other factors are minor obstacles.

  • I could point out that in your (otherwise excellent) quote, “music” could and should be replaced with “arts”, and that the first step in engaging with society is for musicians to engage with other artistic disciplines instead of setting themselves apart.

  • Cathy says:


    “The proof of the music is the hearing. NEVER the talking and reading about”


    Hear, hear!

  • “It is a demonstrated fact that if you put well-designed arts programs into the schools — particularly in areas that are underserved — and you integrate them into the curriculum, you can raise the performance in reading, math and science,”


  • ed says:

    In keeping with Mr. Van de Velde’s comment above, and whether or not one agrees with the journalist Chris Hedges on all matters political, here is an insightful statement about the role of art (and by extension music):

    “Well, the role of art is transcendence. It’s about dealing with what we call the nonrational forces in human life, those forces that are absolutely essential to being whole as a human being but are not quantifiable. Not empirically measureable. Grief, beauty, the struggle with our own mortality, the search for meaning, love—Freud said he could write about sex, he could never write about love—and that’s only going to come through art. I mean, I don’t think it’s accidental that the origins of all religions are always fused with art, with poetry, with music. Because you’re dealing with a transcendence or a reality that is beyond articulation. And for those of us who seek to rise up against this monstrous evil, culture is going to be as important as the more prosaic elements of resistance such as a food tent, or a medical tent or a communications tent.

    I saw that in revolutionary movements I covered in Latin America. And that has just been true throughout history. African-Americans endured the nightmare of slavery through music. And because it’s a kind of, it’s a paradox when you sink to that level of powerlessness where it is you go to find power.

    And the great religious writers, the great philosophers, the great artists, the great novelists, the great musicians, dancers, that’s what they struggle to honor and to sustain. And we, who are in essence when we really talk about it, engaged in a spiritual battle against forces of death, corporate forces are forces of death. We are fighting for life and we are going to need those transcendent disciplines that remind us of who we are, why we’re struggling, and what life finally is about.” http://www.truthdig.com/avbooth/item/chris_hedges_on_the_role_of_art_in_rebellion_20131127

    • Spot on. The arts are there to inspire our best faculcties, they are inspirational and aspirational forces. That’s why the cult of the negative as developed after WW II in the arts, gradually turned into a bland convention, is so ridiculous.

  • As someone with a music degree, even I find it hard to explain all the skills and benefits gained through studying music at that level.

    Firstly, to play an instrument at that level (singing is also an instrument) takes lots of time and self-discipline working in a practice room on fine details. You have to pay attention to details, details of your instrumental technique, and musical details.

    You need to be aware about the music you are working on, who wrote it, what their circumstances were at the time of composing, what were the cultural situation, what were they influenced by. Are there any famous performances, how are these going to influence your performance, how can you own this performance and being mindful of the background make it enjoyable for the audience.

    You have to work as a team. When performing, your audience is part of that team that you need to engage. Unless you play an instrument that stands alone, you will have an accompanist, you will work in ensembles, with directors, and need to respond to all these people in a positive manner.

    As an academic subject, there is the need to write essays. These may be about the pieces you are performing, pieces you are composing, or about history and style of music, compositional techniques.

    There is the need to be analytical. Analytical about your own playing, about musical structures, and how you are going to break down a piece of music in order to play it.

    There is a need to be creative, especially if you compose. One must listen even if there is no formal aural work as part of your course. At some point you will have done some harmony and counterpoint (formal harmony and counter-point) and even if this is not part of this is part of this course, understanding how various musical forms work is essential.

    There are so many genres and periods that come under the label “music” that an open-mind is essential, and if you don’t have it at the start of your course, you will by the end.

    In today’s world, it is essential to be IT literate. If you are not word-processing your essays, you will be using a package to type-set your compositions, or a sequencer to compose.

    In the “good old days” it was all about editing sounds using tape and razor-blades, now the same can be done using a computer programme.

    Even if you don’t end up teaching music or as a performer, the vast number of transferable skills will leave you with a hobby at high level for enjoyment. The greatest pity is the difficulty in describing all of these skills to magnates in industry who do not automatically see them.

    There is much more to music than making a pleasant sound. I do not regret studying it one bit.

  • ed says:

    I also refer back to Norman’s post about the passing of Bennett Reimer (see: http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2013/11/philosopher-of-music-education-has-died.html) and an excellent article online discussing his philosophy of music education titled, “Why Music Matters: The Cognitive Personalism of Reimer and Elliott” by James F. Daugherty, originally published in the Australian Journal of Music Education,1996, No.1: 29-37 (Elliott was Reimer’s student). (The URL is: http://cmed.faculty.ku.edu/private/daugherty.html ). It’s worth reading.

  • richardcarlisle says:

    The barrier to fine music appreciation is the element of time… the beauty of it is the ongoing increase in appreciation through time and experience and therefore the answer to getting more people interested is to start them young — in grammar school — with some limited exposure to Tchaikovsky and Chopin, etc (the more palatable the better) … yes, plant the seed then and it will be a tree of grand culture soon enough.

    • Ian Pace says:

      Wouldn’t there be just as strong a case for introducing them to Indian or Arabic musical traditions at school? Why should the Western art music tradition have primacy?

      • This is again one of those expressions of cultural confusion and ignorance. Since we live in the West (I assume you do not live in India or China or Afghanistan), it is perfectly NATURAL and NORMAL to have Western culture at the centre of the Western educational system. Imagine we ask an Indian person why Indian culture should be at the centre of Indian society. If in India the educational system would be geared-up to entirely Western values and culture, Indian culture and identity would disappear, and Indian people would wander around their monuments with the same feeling of distance as foreigners from the West (in fact, they would become Westeners). If anywhere, cultures belong in the first place where they developed, so that they can be fed with the continuity of shared values from generation to generation. There is nothing against them being exported to other places, but THERE they should not threaten the central place local cultures occupy. Western universalism and multiculti society does not mean that the centrality of Western culture, and especially Western high culture, in the West itself, should be put into question. Our own culture is here to stay and should be central – which is not a ‘domineering, authoritarian’ threat, but simply a plea for normality.

        Music from other cultures can also be introduced in the educational system, but not on the expense of our own. The West can only survive in a global information era if strongly conscious of its own cultural identity, which can function perfectly well within a cultural pluralism. Every society needs a ‘Leitkultur’, a leading culture, a framework strong enough and open enough to be shared by all members (including immigrants), and including enough space for diversity. Otherwise, society falls apart in ghettos of mutually exclusive communities, with different frameworks, different law systems, etc., etc. and the result is the threat of civil war. (Is this so difficult to understand?)

        For that reason it is worrying that Western classical music is getting much more popular in China than their own musical traditions. Let people preferring other cultures than their own emigrate to the places of their preference, if they cannot stand being here.

        • Ian Pace says:

          Even if we restrict education to musical traditions from the West, and relegate to a secondary role all those from elsewhere, including those represented amongst immigrant or other non-Caucasian communities in the West, why privilege ‘high culture’, necessarily? Why not teach popular traditions which are far, far more inclusive and expansive in terms of the range of their listenership, and are much less deeply rooted in a society divided by class?

          • Because popular musical culture is entertainment, not art music.

          • Richard Crampton says:

            ” Because popular musical culture is entertainment, not art music. ”

            Oh my! . . . so does that mean that ” art music ” is not or never was intended to be ” entertainment ” ? Could THIS be at the heart of the topic at hand?

          • John Borstlap says:

            Yes…. I know….. for lots of people this is just difficult…. ‘Entertainment’ is not one big chunk but is a differentiated field of experience. Art music regularly (not always) includes elements of entertainment, but these are subordinate to something more meaningful. High art music stylizes life experiences in the way a perfume is distilled out of raw materials, and therefore tells us something about the human condition that is far more important than entertainment. Since enjoying ourselves is part of the human condition, this is also found in art music, but from another perspective. Often finales of Mozart or Beethoven sympohonies are ‘great fun’, but the nature of that fun is quite different from the fun of a rock concert.

          • Ian Pace says:

            Define ‘art music’ and ‘entertainment’.

          • Tim Benjamin says:

            And Lo, the discussion is reduced to an ontological debate. There ought to be the equivalent of Godwin’s Law for any discussion about music or art, viz.: As the thread lengthens, the probabilty that someone will say “OK, define art / define music” approaches 1.

            In this case the coefficient of probability is less than for Godwin’s Law, because John Borstlap has already invoked Hitler!

          • John Borstlap says:

            I wanted to skip the gestation period of Godwin’s Law.

          • John Borstlap says:

            See one of my comments on Mr Crampton’s.

        • Richard Crampton says:

          Am I correct in assuming that the greatest defenders of Western ” classic culture ” here are Europeans? As an ” American ” it seems to me that most all of our classic culture has been imported from the world over and therefore can’t really be pinpointed as being in the Western tradition?

          • John Borstlap says:

            As far as I know, the Founding Fathers were Westerners, Europeans, Englishmen even. When they wrote ‘We, the people’ it was in regular, correct English. The USA is a Western country with a ‘leading culture’ that is Western, with Western values which had developed in Europe (esp. from the Enlightenment) in spite of later mass immigration. The very reason that so many people want to emigrate to the USA – from non-Western countries!), is exactly THAT: the Western values which offer better conditions for personal development and freedom. Most immigrants do try to become as American as is possible to them and are proud of that. Whether they speak Spanish, Chinese or Urdu in their spare time at home next to English is irrelevant. Giving up Western leading values will only contribute to deterioration of the USA.

      • There is scope in the National Curriculum for this, however, speaking as someone with a classical training, I would want to do it properly and not just be tokenistic, ensure I had access to the right instruments, use East meets West as well as pure Indian and Arabic Music within my listening examples and ensure the cultural context was correct.

        Indonesian Gamalan music is taught in year 9 at the school both my sons attend, and it is well taught. I’ve also seen Taiko Drumming well taught, Indian Ragas and the influence that Ravi Shankir had on George Harrison well taught, Bhangra well taught and all of this is already included on the National Curriculum.

        The emphasis on Western Classical Music may have been how music was taught 20 or 30 years ago, but things have changed a great deal since then to reflect current trends in musicology including ethnicomusicology, fusion-music and music from the popular traditions.

        • Tim Benjamin says:

          No, there isn’t scope in the National Curriculum for it. Not under “music” anyway. There is barely any scope for our own musical traditions in the National Curriculum.

          As for the other kinds of music to which you refer, e.g. “music from popular traditions”, how depressing. I have seen those, I suppose you mean Rock School and the like. They are supposedly an equivalent in terms of skill and intellectual demand to WCM but really they aren’t, they are completely dumb in comparison to, say, the AB or TCM music theory syllabuses. But then so are a lot of WCM-related curricula such as what passes for WCM in GCSE Music, which is more or less an insult to music and an insult to the students who have to learn it and the teachers who have to teach it.

          And you want to bring other traditions into that? Good luck. Especially with rich and complex traditions like ICM with a longer history even than our own thousand years… (give or take a century).

          • I don’t mean Rock School! I mean Jazz, Film music, Musical Theatre. I am fully aware that Indian Classical Music is a rich and long tradition (hence I would not wish to be tokenistic) yet at what age are you intending to introduce these ideas and how are they going to be linked to the rest of the curriculum?

            If the answer is at Key Stage 2, and it is part of an integrated cross-curricular project, then the level of detail and language used to communicate these ideas is going to be different than at Key Stage 3, or Key Stages 4 or 5 (currently GCSE and A Level).

            Programme Music and Film Music is a specific area of study on the Cambridge GCSE Course. Surely as this is a wide topic, it needs to include composers like Korngold and the early writers for Hollywood, but wouldn’t there be something amiss if the music for the MGM musicals was ommitted or the Spaghetti Western ignored? What about soundtracks for animated feature films? How does one account for Bollywood?

            These are the questions I ask that incorporate contemporary culture before I embark on Western Classical Tone Poems. Not a bit of Rock School in sight!

        • …. which merely further stimulates detoriation of understanding of Western musical traditions. Non-Western musical traditions should never take the place of Western musical traditions in any Western educational system. Children from non-Western cultures should simply follow the normal acculturation process that ALL children in the West should follow. This so-called ‘openness’ and ‘tolerance’ towards non-Western musical cultures can only be a successful part of education AFTER having first acquired a thorough grounding in Western musical culture, which obvioulsy should have a central place in musical education. If we would like to have Western musical culture surviving this century, we have to build new audiences, and here – in the West, after all – Western musical culture should have a central position.

          • We don’t all live in a mono-culture even in the UK. I’m all for saying, “When in Rome”, but with the internet, international travel, and immigration we can’t be so Narrow-minded anymore. Composers such as Debussy were taking the World View 100 years ago, surely we should be embracing it even more now?

            I’m sorry John, but I’m going to have to disagree with you. Your ideas are a generation out of date.

          • John Borstlap says:

            I’m sorry Joanna, but your comment cannot survive any serious criticism. To begin with, at the time Debussy heard – for the first time in his life – original Eastern music on the Parisian World Exhibition in 1889, European music formed a quite homogenous field, using a musical language which was understandable everywhere in Europe, in spite of the extensions that romanticism had created as additions to the classical language. At that time, there hardly was any serious information about non-European musical cultures. Debussy absorbed influences and certain techniques from the east, but applied them in his own music following the very same dynamics on which European traditions were founded. Quoting Boyd Pommeroy in ‘The Companion to Debussy'(Cambridge University Press): ‘…. his tonal language, even at its least orthodox, never loses sight of the traditional principles that ultimately give it meaning. In Debussy’s music, tonal and formal processes continue to interrelate in ways not so fundamentally different from the tonal masterpieces of the preceding two centuries.’ The Eastern influence in Debussy’s music was only one of the elements of his work; he also mined European musical history (modality and the like) and used extensive chromaticism à la Wagner.

            Second, being open to global information does not automatically mean that one has to drop one’s own culture. The one does not logically follow out of the other. There is a difference between absorbing influences and being pulverized by them. It is the lack of understanding of culture in general which leads to self-destructive conclusions to which my comment was a reaction… Instead of blindly following trends, it might be helpful to stop and to start thinking what they mean, because it is not entirely impossible that new ideas about education are erosive instead of constructive. In other words: it is wholeheartedly to be recommended to keep a critical mind.

          • Richard Crampton says:

            Good Grief! Where did ” Western classical music ” come from? For that matter, where did all ” Western art ” come from? Did it come down from a mountain on stone tablets? With very, very rare exception all art is derivative in that it is continually being influenced by cultures from around the world! At what point in history does one isolate and say, ” From this point onward, we have what we will call ‘ Western classical music ‘ . ” If it has a good beat and you can dance to it, who cares where it came from?!

          • John Borstlap says:

            The point is not where it came from, but what the nature of the art form has become. After a digestion period, every culture assumes a certain character, a system of interrelated meaning, which serves as a means for artistic achievement. Of course this does not exclude further influences but they are absorbed into the nature of the whole, like a person with a definite, strong character can change under influences from outside, but that does not mean that the person in question becomes someone else. All this has to do with identity. Only people / cultures with an underdeveloped identity, or in a state of deterioriation, are themselves absorbed by outer influences. And then, they merely react according to current appetite, as your remark so eloquently demonstrates.

  • I’ve got first hand experience trying to convince others about both the value of music and the value of myself with music. It’s a hard road that’s for sure. It doesn’t really exist but for a fleeting moment. You’re competing with both other forms of music and musicians, but also all the other ways that people can spend their time and/or money. I think that music is probably the most difficult form of art simply because there is so much and it isn’t really tangible.

  • Richard Crampton says:

    Ever since man advanced beyond the immediate need to hunt or protect himself from predators he has always felt the need to express some inner voice or leave a mark of some sort. More ” spare time “, more art.

    Take away all the ” classics ” and the instruments to play them and folks would sit in a circle pounding out rhythms and vocalizing.

    Rebellious youngsters these days reject the stuffy, cerebral, regimented concert hall, much preferring the tribalistic, highly charged, and LOUD music of their age. It’s only natural. No amount of education, exposure, and cajouling will get them to embrace their elder’s music . . . . and I dare say the old farts are mostly equally resistent to their progeny’s ” noise “.

    • What a nonsense…. Concert halls are not stuffy etc., and where youngsters don’t want to know about them, it merely shows their primitivism and refusal to grow up and mature. The contemporary cult of ‘youth’ as some stage of ideal existence is one of the causes of the myth that serious music life is ‘inaccessible’ to young people and should be ‘adapted’. The other one is the egalitarian idea that all forms of making sounds are equally valuable and that hip hop, sonic art and Hollywood kitsch are as valuable and important in terms of artistic expression as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, etc. etc.

      • Richard Crampton says:

        Oh my . . . . . oh my . . . . . Would that your feet were on the ground instead of on some elitist cloud . . . . .

        • John Borstlap says:

          It is very easy to be sarcastic about this remark, but more interesting is the question: why are there people around, sufficiently intelligent to operate a computer and to contribute to a blog like this one, which is – NB! – about a cultural theme, but don’t see any point in getting children / youth mature, become civilized, cultured adults with an awareness of the world in which they live and of the values which make-up the very civilization that has, after ages of immense effort, reached a stage in which a thing like a computer can be operated for contributions to a blog about a cultural theme? There are many answers to this question, but it seems to me that when things get ‘easy’, lots of people merely lean backwards & fall asleep – until some catastrophe wakes them up and the whole story of civilization begins again.

        • There’s nothing elitist about suggesting people should make an effort. If they can’t be bothered, then stuff ’em.

  • Ian Pace says:

    ‘Why can’t we articulate the value of music to society?’

    I could give some thoughts on that question if I know whether the qualifier ‘classical’ should be inserted before ‘music’?

  • Tim Benjamin says:

    “Value”? What is this “value” of which you speak?

    Clearly we can trade our musical skills for money, if that’s what you mean. I am playing in a show tonight for a few pints and a few quid. There is however no correlation between the amount of money you will get in return and your objective skill (I can play most of the concertos written for my instrument and can do fast scales!) or objective number of years’ experience (+30! wow where did that go?)

    Other notions of value? well there are all the non-musical “beneficial outcomes” of music education. Yada yada, you will be better at maths, have better concentration, memory, team-skills, bla bla. All good training to become a better cog in the corporate machine of course. However all of those, sport can do better, and if not better, then for sure cheaper. So I resent it when asked to articulate the value of music in non-musical terms.

    Maybe you meant a more subjective notion of value, such as the value to you Norman. If I said “you will never again hear Beethoven”, maybe you would trade your right arm in exchange for being allowed again to hear Beethoven. Or maybe you would only go so far as to shave off your beard, or give me five pounds. The value is different for different people.

    Personally I think we have to value music as a kind of “common good” – i.e. like the grass, the air, street lighting, a police force and so on. Also, fresh water. Clearly some of those are essential for civilisation and a happy life (or life at all in some cases), and some just make it a lot more civilised and happy. In this sense music is quite unlike objects of art such as paintings, which do not function like a common good (but more like a Veblen good if you want to get into


  • I would begin (tongue firmly in cheek) with a quote from George Carlin and say “Imagine how dumb the average person is, and think that half of the population is dumber than that!” Many people who are skilled musicians can’t express why it would add value (as some mentioned earlier in the comments), just as many professional athletes can’t tell you how they run as fast as they do, nor can many professors transfer the love of math to their students. Some are not skilled with English or the conceptual thinking to get their point across to non- musicians, or amateur musicians.

    The real unfortunate part is that there is a line in our current society between the “do-ers” and the “observers”. If one was to go back 100 years and ask any random person to join their choir for a piece because they needed an extra voice…they would have joined in gladly. Now, people would say “I can’t do that” or “I’m not that good”. Music is about doing! We need to get everyone involved. If it means you dance, dance! If you sing, the sing. If you play, play. But music is not something that is meant to wash over you like a shower (to quote Dr. Wayne Bowman).

    The next issue we have currently is that schools are going more and more towards standardized testing. How does one test “enrichment?” Who is the teacher you remember most? Then, tell me how they changed you? Now tell me how many concepts from that class you use everyday? I rarely use trigonometry, worry about conjugating verbs in French, or the time frames involved in the Fur Trade in early Canadian development. Does that mean that I didn’t learn from those teachers? What is it that I learned? Can you find the standardized test that would determine that? On a scale of 1-100, how good of a person am I? These are where numbers fail. But if we can’t put a number on it, it lacks “value”. If administrators want higher scores, can they not make the tests easier? Do you see the problem now?

    Here’s the value of music as I see it: When you are doing (playing, actively listening, singing, etc), it is knowledge in doing. While you are doing what you are doing, you a immediately aware of the give and take between the music and you. And while you do the mechanics (thing any sport reference you want) you are also the coach on the sideline evaluating the result, and then you jump back to the performer to adjust. This aspect is something that any other subject other than sports cannot match. This is high-speed intense learning. This is the best kind of stimulus as I’ve come across yet.

    A lot of people would say that sounds like a good reason right there. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Music (like all arts) teaches you to see the world differently. The value of music then is how it changes everything that comes after it. In learning or enjoying a piece of music, it’s not the music that benefits, it is us. We see things differently, we learn an emotional vocabulary. Just as no one can tell you about the Mona Lisa, no one can talk you through Pat Methany’s First Circle, or Mendelssohn’s 5th. It can’t be done. The language is not there. Or rather, the language IS the music. If I want to tell you it, I’ll need an Orchestra.

    I’ll leave you with this…how many times have you said I love that song? Now, how many times have you said I love this math problem, or computer network, or anything else that you were graded upon at school that was not Art? I love music, and I love the world around me more because of it. It’s made me a better person, and allowed me to give back to my community that same love. Sounds like a 10 out of 10 to me.

  • Figbash says:

    What makes you think that any of what you describe constitutes IT literacy? All it means is that you can read a manual and press buttons. It signifies no meaningful technology knowledge. It isn’t enough even to get the IT equivalent of a job asking ‘Do you want fries with that?’

  • Joe Shelby says:

    simple: if you can’t put a dollar value on it, you can’t compare it to something with a dollar value.

  • David H. says:

    “People in music know what highly skilled music students can do, and what music adds to the lives of people, but we keep saying society does not understand,” added another. “Why? Either because we can’t articulate our own value, or because we refuse to engage with society.”

    Neither nor. The described value can only be EXPERIENCED, not be communicated by verbal “articulation”.

    No matter how skilled a musician is, his “production” of music is only half of the equation. The other half is the recipient, the listener. If we do not have enough educated listeners hungry for doing their half of the creation of music – since music only happens in the mind of the recipient, nowhere else – then we are irrelevant.

    The real question is: How do we get to have audiences that are educated and interested enough in listening to our music making?

    The only way I see is, by exposing as many people as possible preferably at younger ages with the EXPERIENCE of music making and then also educate them along the way. But the experience is the key. It’s not about articulation. It’s about doing.

    At the peak of the classical music age, at the fin de ciècle, every household had a piano or there were other instruments played and people were singing. No records. Records are not a replacement for the experience of music making, much like porno movies are no replacement for actual love making.

    • richardcarlisle says:

      Yes– if it’s brought into the early school years in a palatable manner the language of fine music will be instilled and a future audience prepared to make the world a better place bathed in classic culture of all forms.

      • Why is such a comment so rare? (the one about classical culture) Because the term ‘classical’ has, for many people, the ring of elitist, authoritarian, domineering qualities, related to unfair societies, dangerous dictators who loved Mozart (Stalin) and Wagner (Hitler), and inequalities everywhere on the planet, for which ‘classical culture’ of any kind is supposed to be responsible. Modern, Western ideas about egalitarian society have, however, nothing to do with classical culture, they do not stand in contradiction to the idea of high culture. Culture should be accessible to all, but that does not mean there are no quality standards. If indeed classical music would be a normal, regular part of education from the first years onwards, it would not only create future audiences but greatly improve young people’s mental health and capacities, as a recent article about a German research project showed (Pacific Standard 3rd December: ‘Music Lessons Boost Emotional, Intellectual Development; German researchers report learning to play a musical instrument is associated with higher grades and superior cognitive skills.’)

  • For me, IT literacy is far more than pressing a few buttons. There is the need to use a wide range of applications, but also the need to get one’s hands grubby and wire them up and fix basic problems.

    Many music graduates need to do things like connect a Midi keyboard to their PC, because they have had to wire up sound systems and recording rigs, they do tend to know more than use a word-processor and print off a document.

    Some of the sound packages are not immediately intuitive. There is occasionally the need to code (although this is not universal).

    Do remember that music reflects the “spirit of the age” in which it was written, it is an all encompassing art-form that involves creativity and interpretation.

    Having these highly skilled people with good transferable skills who can engage with a wide range of people, be thought provoking and entertaining can be nothing but good.

    Maybe the rest of the society should open their minds and ears.

  • thekingontheviolin says:

    With this explique you have just given the perfect set of reasons helping every government to withold as much funding as possible from music. Your climactic conclusion whereby students are left with “a hobby at high level for enjoyment” is breath taking in its absurdity. I am weeping with laughter.

    We musicians should be careful to evade this issue altogether. Even entering the discussion at all will aggravate the deterioration.

    Rather like G-d, music was, is and will be.

    • I was rather looking at the transferable skill set for those who end up not working in the industry. There are all the skills for successful project managers, management consultants, potential actuaries, and other senior level people that can be sourced from the pool of Music Graduates.

      How many Foreign Language Graduates end up working as translators? What do History Graduates do? What do Geographers do? Very few will end up as demographers or cartographers?

      Music Graduates even if they don’t work in the business are in a good position to do something with their subject in the community whist working at a high level within another strata of industry, that is provided that the companies recruiting them don’t think all the want to do is play their instruments and look at the complete skill set.

      Now as there is a good reason to study Languages and Humanities, there is also a good reason to fund Music, a subject that demands similar academic rigours to studying history (I should know I spent time studying Historical Musicology) together with the need to create and interpret. There are plenty of reasons to study music.

      It is what high level study does to the mind set that is of greatest value rather than whether we keep producing musicians who insist on working professionally.

  • thekingontheviolin says:

    Sorry! This comment should have been a reply to Joanna Debenham’s original critique of a music degree’s value to society.

    I wrongly located it as a separate comment.

  • thekingontheviolin says:

    I actually agree with you but I still think there is something about the musician which renders us all etranger. We as outsiders to society should not expect normal integration notwithstanding your correct and detailed analysis of the benefits granted by us to the host society.

    I recently went to discuss these issues with Ida Haendel in Miami. She is just about the last of the gretas in the 20th century. The video link is 3 hours long but you will see how I think musicians should be relating to one another. We just spoke about playing, performing, teaching whilst being fully aware of the deterioration. Her take on all this is that musicians were always on the fringe of society. At one point she says “plus ca change,

    plus c’est la meme chose.”……


  • I’ve not watched your video yet, but recognise the feeling of the “outsider looking in”.

    I will watch it as Ms Haendel is a player whom I greatly respect, and whose musicality and playing i admire.

    I’m not a string player, but value talking to musicians who play different instruments to listen to how our perception varies with the differences in the technical requirements of the instruments that we play (and yes that includes singing) our life experience and who we have met en route.

    I have discussed pitch perception with string players and as a singer found great similarities due to the cognitive processes in placing fingers on fingerboards and finding the right placement within an individual singer’s personal formants (e.g. how a note is spelt is very important).

    When I had to compose as an undergraduate, I often knew how I wanted things to sound, but I also wanted the players not to curse me when I gave them their individual parts, so finding out about the differing strengths and difficulties of their instruments in addition to understanding their timbres through having listened to many examples of them was vital. There was only so much I could learn from a book on orchestration, much more by listening to people with a mastery of an instrument who was prepared to share that.

    I have a great respect for composers such as Benjamin Britten who knew exactly how to compose for amateurs, yet when writing for professionals exploited their technique. However Britten would find the most economic way of writing something that sounded complex and make it approachable for the player. This is a lesson many a composer could do well to emulate.

    I don’t really mind that the neighbours don’t fully understand quite the sum of knowledge and work required now for me to be able to sing the repertoire I can, ever so often I catch people out, then it is abundantly clear. However I’d much rather they feel comfortable to sing nursery rhymes to their children without feeling self-conscious. Most people can hold a melody better than they think, but that does mean they should attempt a Rossini Coloratura Aria.

  • Assessing the value of music based on measurable impacts alone will always sound the alarm bells, as it well should. But since we’re having the conversation, it’s interesting that music therapy has not been included in this discussion thus far. Music therapy is evidence-based and involves measurable clinical interventions.

    Ongoing and especially recent research findings about measurable differences in individuals who’ve studied an instrument while growing up also provide evidence of the value of music.

  • Imagine a person not relating to classical music would be forced to read this discussion. Would the person relate afterwards?

    • David H. says:

      Talking about it is irrelevant anyway. Experiencing and doing it is relevant only.

    • I Very much doubt it Michael. As soon as someone who was brought up in that tradition, but had opened their eyes, ears and mind to other cultures and new ideas writes, they are accused of either “lacking Criticial thought” or “giving government the best reason in the world to suspend Music from the tertiary curriculum”.

      What is it that justifies any subject from study at a high level? What do we expect students to get out of their time at University, or at a Music Conservertoire or similar institution such as a fine art college? Only some of this is going to be subject knowledge and skills in that subject, the rest must be in the training of the mind in how to think, and in the gaining of transferable skills.

      As far as the value placed on Western Classical Music within Schools in the UK, I love Western Classical Music with a passion, and it will always be the style of music I enjoy performing the most, but I recognise that it only part of the rich tapestry that is Music, and that other types of music also have an intrinsic value, have influenced the Western Tradition, and have greater cultural significance in Multicultural Britain. Popular Culture has also produced some very fine pieces of music that are worth exploring and cannot be dismissed as purely for entertainment.

      I have read comments that quite frankly read like the worst forms of snobbery and bigotry. Why one genre of music is “better” and therefore “deserves” to form the backbone of the Music Curriculum. This is not the case. We need to engage young people where they are at and then extend their knowledge. There are routes back into the Western Classical tradition through cross-curricular work in primary schools, but kids even then are savvy and don’t like being preached at.

      I once brought an Oboe and Cor Anglais into a former ILEA Secondary School. They were like alien objects. This was over 20 years ago. There is a pre-conception that Opera is for “posh-people”, yet as someone who has been trained to sing in that style I feel pretty ordinary.

      The last thing I want is for the Western Classical Tradition to be seen as elitist, but with so many elitist comments, that kid from a council estate in Rotherham just might get the wrong idea.

  • Jonathan says:

    For years people believed the earth was flat and many still resist the theory of evolution. It is what people believe that matters, not what is true and herein lies the rub: there is all kinds of evidence supporting the view that a society with music at the arts at its core might be a rather good idea and plenty more to suggest that current common values are far from ideal. Whether due to vested interests, though, or simply because people in general are deeply resistant to change, society itself appears unwilling or unable to react positively. It may simply be coincidental but possibly the overpowering disinterest arises because despite whatever theoretical evidence we can produce, society as a whole is able to sense that our house is far from being in order; that rather than truly promoting the agenda to which we pretend, our world is riddled with the same toxic mixture of greed, fear, corruption and ineptitude that we can observe in other areas of life.

  • richardcarlisle says:

    On second thought it seems Tchaikovsky should not be the starting point for directly teaching fine music to the lower grades since that age group is pummeled with Nutcracker performances since even before grammar school … my experience in not advancing beyond that level until college is a fact of great regret and reason to think the fourth grade is time to emphasize work of Mendelssohn, Dvorak, Schubert and each year after introduce additional composers until arriving at Bach and other Baroque works in eighth grade… and of course in high school proceed to works from other cultures including India, Asia, Africa, etc.

    Shooting from the hip of course in such guesswork — in reality, like any other changes in school programs you must set up test sites using slightly different approaches and allow years of assessment to decide what seems most effective/productive.

    I feel so strongly about the interim years I wasted between grammar school and college before reaching a decent start in love of fine music… a real disastrous void that could/should have been avoided.

    • richardcarlisle says:

      If I may add — in fact I’m compelled to add — a sharing of a new exquisite world of music pleasure, through use of an amplified speaker using a jump wire from the headphone jack… for under a hundred dollars I have now through the computer (a small laptop) extreme sound quality all the way from a standing double bass and/or a piccolo right in the room with you … and a selection of ALL classical music, the best of ALL popular from the forties forward… just type in youtube search bar the music and the desired performer and why bother ever buying another recording that wouldn’t be as convenient to manage.

      There are a few amped speakers out there with my Yamaha PDX 11 near the bottom of the price list but reviewed by others highly in addition to what I’ve experienced … and it’s not just one song at a time but whole albums are frequently available as well… and if you think your current eight-inch computer speakers are sufficient you have a surprise waiting.

      I’ve obtained nothing in recent years that I’m able to appreciate like this breakthrough — and not only is it useful for all recordings but any important radio station can be live streamed… for the first time in ten years since moving away from the Manhattan area I’m able to cherish again WQXR (majorly improved since going public) all day, all night with no commercials.

      Hope at least one other person discovers the same joy I’m now immersed in — an exotic cultural massage/bubble bath (hardly an exaggeration).