Music is Hard 18: Taste

This week:
What’s the difference between good things and crappy things? How do we develop our senses of personal taste in art and music? Can we convince other people to value the same things in art that we do? Should we?


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  • Laura Pawlowski

    I like Tim’s point about education. The people who voted for the living statue, that is THEIR art. That’s the closest they ever get to art and that’s why it’s so disappointing that the artists’ statement was about capitalism. If the closest you get to art is a living statue, you don’t have a frame of reference to interpret what is truly artistic and creative or an expression of the human experience.

    After the point of education I think it’s more a question of introduction and slow introduction at that. And whatever is being introduced somehow needs to relate to what the audience already has in their point of reference. Tim’s reference to “The Shining” was a good one; they’ve seen that movie and now know that is how that piece of music is to be interpreted. Now that piece is a part of their knowledge base and when they DO hear the Berio trombone Sequenza they can relate it to this flute piece.

    I’m not convinced that new music is good. I’m a “music scholar” too (or whatever) and on the almost impossible occasion that I can find new music (I live in Nebraska) it’s unlikely that it will be performed with any amount of facility and I don’t want to commit that much time to find out. For what Lincoln, NE has in a vibrant visual art scene it seriously lacks in a living music scene. There is NO jazz here, there is NO new music program at the University and therefore NO way for the good decent people of Nebraska to be exposed to new music. Sure, someone could pick up a recording but even I have issues with that. Recordings are so impersonal and allow you to flip through an entire album and never listen to anything in its entirety. It’s not always a question of intellectual accessibility but often a question of physical accessibility.

    I think that some large orchestras are on the right track with new music. They’ll commission a work and put it on the same program with a big-name soloist or a really popular piece of classical music so at least it’s given a voice. I know that’s not ideal but it certainly attempts to open the minds of a hall full of Uchida/Mozart fans for a few minutes.

    And no, there’s no convincing Mozart people.

    • Thanks for listening, Laura. You make some great points.

  • john pippen


    First of all, Dude! I was at that 8bb concert, too! What a bummer I didn’t realize you’d be there, we could have gotten a bear or something.

    Also, I want to defend Tim Munro a bit here. His comment was, “We’ve reached a point that this [practice of precise notation] is sort of the equivalent of theoretical astrophysics for music. Like we’ve reached a point of such incredible specificity that composers do such extreme notational things to kind of get what they need.” His comment was strictly about notation, not necessarily about the virtuosity of their performance itself. I am also wary of the comparison to Babbitt’s infamous essay. I don’t think Tim at all agrees with the idea of people not getting new music b/c they can’t handle it. In fact I feel like Tim has dedicated his career to reversing that idea.

    Second, I feel like I’d like to hear more about why their clothing is a bummer for you. Does it get in the way of good music? I’m really curious to hear your rationale.

    Finally, I would really like to hear more about the whole open-minded thing. This is one of the most consistent things I’ve heard in my years of research in this music scene, and I can’t help but feel it’s pretty judgmental and even, dare I say, arrogant. Like Laura, I don’t think new music is inherently good or superior to Katy Perry. At the end of the day it sort of sounds like you’re judging people for not liking the same stuff as you. Doesn’t accusing people of not being open minded sort of conflict with what Dave said about bad music appreciation texts? To be fair, though, I know Dave has repeated called for some sort of objective standard regarding good music. Thoughts?

  • John, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think we’ll probably end up talking about it on the show today.

    Thanks for clearing up Tim Munro’s comments. I think Tim R. misunderstood what he was saying.

    Regarding the clothes, I’m with you. However, I’ve never successfully convinced Tim of anything. I’ll leave it to Tim to try again to change our minds.

    I want to be clear that we weren’t using Katy Perry as a representative of all popular music. We were specifically talking about her music. I feel that there is good and bad music. However, I don’t think that we as “scholars” have any special privileges in making determinations in that regard.

    As for my hypocrisy between that and my comments about music appreciation texts, I think I’m thinking of this in a different way. If students like the music of Katy Perry, fine. Whatever. It’s not for me. I think it’s dumb. Having said that, me saying “You! Student! That music is crap! Here’s some Ligeti. LIKE IT!” is probably not a good way of convincing them that Ligeti is interesting.

  • john pippen

    Lol, after posting this, I had a lot of second thoughts about the arrogant comment. I hope that didn’t come off too assholish.

    So two things: Could you guys talk about clothes more? Why do they detract from Tim’s experience?

    Second, IS Ligeti’s music interesting? I think so, but I’m not sure I would try to convince students to like it. But I would to try to put it in a particular culture context and encourage some sort of understanding among my students.

  • John, don’t worry about being assholish, Tim and I certainly don’t.

    We (or rather, Tim) talked about clothes on the show today. Check back late tonight/tomorrow morning to hear his take. I think he’s full of crap, but I’ll let him speak for himself.

    I don’t think I’m trying to convince students to like Ligeti as much as I’m trying to show them what there is to like about it, as you say, to encourage understanding.

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