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Monday, September 10, 2007

Musical Illiteracy


Does musical literacy count? Does it matter whether you can read the notes? Obviously it matters to me, otherwise I wouldn't be blogging on it. But should it matter to the church, and to our culture? Art and Music are taking a huge hit in public education, where they are some of the first subjects to be cut, being considered luxuries and not core. My education in Minnesota gave me no choice. We all sang, the entire class had music. Our only choices revolved around vocal or instrumental. Our church children's and youth ministry sang, reading notes. We all just did it, like we all learned to tie our shoes. It was a practical life-skill.
An NPR special this past week focussed on a new book "Proust and the Squid" analyzing the power of verbal literacy in countries. When a country/culture promotes literacy, it democratizes ideas in the marketplace. Ideas become portable and not tied to an oral tradition. The speaker sited the power of the Reformation, the printing press and the portability of ideas, loosing them from the control of powerful elites.
Is music, especially music in the church, reverting to an oral tradition where notes are meaningless? Where what is sung depends on the worship leader and harmonization is a purely optional activity? What happens to tempo when time signatures are absent altogether?
This comes up for me again because in an article giving tribute to Pavarotti in the NYT's last week, mention was made that Pavarotti, an opera "rock star" was looked down on by some of his colleagues because he never learned to read music! What does that mean?

5 Comments:

At 8:13 PM , Blogger RaisingUpLeaders said...

Being able to read music is important if you want to expand your skill level. Not everyone in our worship team can sing the music by ear. So it's been up to me to have music for them. I have been considerig going back to school to learn more about how to read music so we can increase our talents.

 
At 9:46 PM , Blogger Isaac Johnson said...

there are a lot of hymns in the hymnal dating back hundreds of years. if music wasnt kept, i doubt we could play them today and certainly wouldnt know how to sing them (which versus repeat - how long to hold a note - how the baratone or tenor should sing).

but perhaps contemporary music is only valuable for here and now - like living music and knowing the "contemporary music" of yesteryear isn't important.

 
At 5:44 AM , Blogger kent said...

I wonder how many people of our age can read music? I know I can't. I know there are full, half, quarter, and eighth notes, and I know there is a base and treble cleff, but ask me what a "c" sounds like, forget it. Ask me to see what key a song is from the sheet music? Not a chance.

I believe that the population who actually read music is a minority, probably 25% at best.

 
At 8:53 PM , Blogger donnjohnson said...

Sounds ike you were just reading!!

 
At 5:47 PM , Blogger dan bos said...

this is a really complex issue.
there is real value in writing down music on the page, but frankly its insuffient for a lot of what is being "written" today. the fact that we have recordings of music now makes that ok. For a lot of "contemporary" music its so complicated on the page its almost comedic. But people of a younger generation have very little difficulty hearing what to sing.

FYI Don, time signature and tempo are completely different things. there are no set tempos for any music we sing in church. Its all relative to what you know, have known, and like. (but I'm a big proponent of the metronome when its possible.)

 

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