Red or Blue?

UPDATE: 1/15, Unfortunately, webbots mistook my article for a subject other than music, hence the  change in title.

In a recent blog article, Washington Post music writer Anne Midgette opened the inevitable, and perhaps unnecessary, can of worms with “States of Music”, in which she draws an analogy between red/blue states of politics and red/blue states of music listeners. (Also read her follow-up “High Fidelity”) Her basic premise was that (to quote):

“The red states are those who love the classical tradition with a deep passion. They understand the need for contemporary music and revitalization, and subject themselves to it with a dutiful sense of obedience, and are happy when they hear something they like…But their real love lies with the mainstream canon: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, and all the byways and tributaries of that stream…”

“The blue states love classical music no less. But they worry that it’s dying out because it is so entrenched in the past. Meanwhile, all kinds of new movements, ideas, and musics are springing up. The blue states want to encourage this new growth, and ideally to see it better incorporated into the mainstream classical tradition…”

Oddly, given these criteria and the ill-conceived analogy, one might even be confused into which category they belong. By defining categories of listeners and by raising the issue of “factionalism” in music, Midgette may be implying that she feels this is an “us vs. them” thing—a black and white issue, which it most certainly is not. Several of the post’s commenters really took arguable positions. One commenter felt that the division boils down to tonality vs. atonality for most listeners, and that it may be fruitless to combine the two in an orchestra’s programming, instead suggesting segregating new music from traditional classical.

I would particularly disagree with that sentiment—nothing could be more destructive to American orchestras and listeners than to fall into the divisive trap of musical condescension or alienation and divide up into old vs. new, traditional vs. progressive. What is important is to hone our listening ability, to feel free to question previously held musical assumptions, and to keep an open mind.  I think one would be surprised, then, how those barriers begin to break down.


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