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Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s good

Written: June 14, 2003

A friend of mine used to work at the National Music CenterĀ in the Berkshires, and would provide me with free concert tickets on occasion. Some events were quite good, most notably one featuring David Byrne, with a quite cool jazz/funk/rap opening act called Coolbone.

Some were not so good.

I don’t know how well-known Jim Brickman is, but it’s been over five years since I attended his concert, and remembering his music still makes me cringe. He had a solo voice/piano act, and his compositions were the most awful crap I’d ever heard. The music was incredibly cheesy and trite, and his lyrics were no different. For the second half, I sat in the lobby and read a book. (I had to stick around to drive my friend home.)

After the concert, I was talking about it with my friend and her mother, who had enjoyed the concert and were horrified that I disliked it so deeply. My friend apologized for me by saying something to the effect of, “He’s a music major – he has to listen for chord changes and that sort of stuff.” Her mother responded by saying she felt sorry that my training had made me unable to appreciate such beautiful music.

Hell, even before I knew much about music, Brickman’s songs would have made me consider stabbing myself to escape.

What I find interesting (and distressing) is that my knowledge of and training in classical music somehow made me less qualified to talk about it, somehow invalidated my opinions.

I might also quibble with how the word ‘beautiful’ is defined. But that’s another subject entirely.

I feel that the training I’ve had hasn’t changed what I want to listen to; it’s exposed me to more possibilities. My belief is that my musical training doesn’t mean I appreciate music on a different level – it makes be appreciate it on more levels. But I still dig a lot of the music I bought when I was just a kid who took piano lessons and played in a crappy high school cover band.

Maybe what I find really troublesome is the belief that you have to be taught how to enjoy modern music, something I’ve probably talked about before. This wasn’t explicitly said in the aforementioned exchange, but I think it was an underlying theme, an unstated axiom – the fallacy that liking modern music means scorning music that’s not as…adventurous.

Unfortunately, I think we composers are at fault as the source of that idea – though that’s not to say we’re solely at fault. But that’s yet another tangential subject.

Dammit, music is music, no matter how complicated or abstract it might be. All it requires is that you listen with an open mind. If you like it, you like it; if you don’t, you don’t. But don’t simply assume you won’t enjoy it before you hear it. What’s important is that you give it a chance.

(Incidentally, what does ‘abstract’ mean when talking about music?)